NUMBERS 3 INFINITY RACHEL WARD
This is for my parents, Shirley and David, and grandparents and those who went before … and for Ali and Pete and whoever follows afterwards. And for Ozzy, of course.
Cover Title Page Chapter 1: February 2029 Chapter 2: Adam Chapter 3: Sarah Chapter 4: Adam Chapter 5: Sarah Chapter 6: Adam Chapter 7: Sarah Chapter 8: Adam Chapter 9: Sarah Chapter 10: Adam Chapter 11: Sarah Chapter 12: Adam Chapter 13: Sarah Chapter 14: Adam Chapter 15: Sarah Chapter 16: Adam Chapter 17: Sarah Chapter 18: Adam Chapter 19: Sarah Chapter 20: Adam
Chapter 21: Sarah Chapter 22: Adam Chapter 23: Sarah Chapter 24: Adam Chapter 25: Sarah Chapter 26: Adam Chapter 27: Sarah Chapter 28: Adam Chapter 29: Sarah Chapter 30: Adam Chapter 31: Sarah Chapter 32: Adam Chapter 33: Sarah Chapter 34: Adam Chapter 35: Sarah Chapter 36: Adam Chapter 37: Sarah Chapter 38: Adam Chapter 39: Sarah Chapter 40: Adam Chapter 41: Sarah Chapter 42: Adam Chapter 43: Sarah Chapter 44: Adam Chapter 45: Sarah Chapter 46: Adam Chapter 47: Sarah Chapter 48: Adam
Chapter 49: Sarah Chapter 50: Adam Chapter 51: Sarah Epilogue – 2033 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Copyright
or a house for mice. ‘Dragons. and the pupils in her blue eyes grow wide. They’re growling softly now. Her fingers are busy – picking things up. but his colours are dark. belching out trails of dark smoke. The girl sits very still. There’s a man inside. The motorbikes slow down. She hears the motorbikes before she sees them.’ she whispers. it’s nice here. She can see them. arranging them – and her mind’s busy.Chapter 1: February 2029 The little girl sits in the dirt. The man’s face is pale. They stop. not roaring. big and black and fast. The girl glimpses metal and rubber and leather between the trees. She’s never seen people-colours like these before.
but now her legs are tired and she doesn’t want to walk any more. but they’re too near. She’s never seen a motorbike before and now there are three. And she doesn’t like him
. a background whine that becomes a drone that turns into a roar. like his clothes and his dragon. putting them down. too. She holds her hands over her ears. The girl doesn’t like the colours. With all the stones and leaves and twigs around her she could make a nest for birds. Anyway. Can they see her? The dragon at the front takes off part of its head. She’s been exploring the forest. She makes marks in the dirt with a stick – lines and circles – and her mouth moves as she sings herself the song that goes with her dust-pictures. For a moment their eyes meet. He scans the trees either side of the road that cuts through the forest. A swirl of grey and purple and black.
and then they’re gone. The dragons’ growl turns into a roar again. closer. Mia turns her head a
. Slowly she unwinds and leans forward. almost black. closer … ‘Mia! Here you are!’ There are feet right next to the nest. There’s nothing to show the dragons were ever there apart from a cloud of dust. destroying her dust-pictures. She wants to see if her nest is a good one. His eyes are dark. which hangs in the air and then settles. Then she waits for the dreams to come – the colours and pictures that will send her to sleep. The girl curls in a tight little ball and buries her face in her knees again. Let’s go. If there are dragons here. The girl squints through her eyelashes. she will need to build a big nest to keep the birds and the mice safe. ‘Mia! Mii-aa! Where are you? Where are you?’ The voice is getting closer.’ His voice is hard and low. She hears footsteps crunching through the undergrowth. and buries her face in her knees. She closes her own eyes quickly. too. and they are hurting her. if she can be found. Better make it big enough to keep her safe. Closer. snuggles in and closes her eyes. ‘Seen something. this game. She wakes when she hears someone shouting her name. She loves playing hide-and-seek. boss?’ ‘Just a kid. gathering in an armful of twigs and leaves. ‘Mia! Mii-aa! Where are you? Mii-aa!’ She doesn’t move.looking at her. It’s fun. She piles more and more stuff around her.
She heard bikes a few minutes ago. We’ll be safe there. a haze of blue and lilac around her. ‘Better get back to the camp.’ Mia takes her thumb out of her mouth and looks up. Mia shakes her head. She wants her to be smiling and laughing.’ she says again.’ Sarah looks towards the road. Mia doesn’t like it. ‘Dragons. firmly this time. ‘Do you mean motorbikes?’ she says.little and peeks upwards. hugging her daughter close.’ says Mia. I thought … I thought I’d lost you. Sarah bends down and grabs her daughter under her armpits. and holds her close. She doesn’t want Mummy to shout at her. smiling. The skin is creased between her blue eyes.’ But Mia doesn’t feel safe.’ she says. even now. But her colours are the same as always. She lifts her up. ‘Dragons. holding on to
. still curled tightly in a ball. The dragons won’t come near our fire.’ ‘Did you see wolves and bears as well?’ Sarah says. ‘Noisy. Then she reaches forward to wrap her arms round her mummy. ‘Dragons. ‘Me see dragons. Everything’s okay – there won’t be shouting and tears this time. colours that mean one thing – Mummy. She starts walking away from the road and back into the forest.’ she says. ‘Mia. then. ‘I was just worried. I’m not cross. ‘you must stay where I can see you. Mia turns her head into her knees again. Are you listening?’ Mia puts her thumb in her mouth. The woman looks cross.
Mummy. Better to hide. A fire wouldn’t frighten them away. Better to make a nest and hide from the man with the dark colours all around him.
. They’d like a fire. The dragons she saw made smoke themselves. she thinks.
’ I say.’ he says.’ My heart’s thudding in my chest. It’s the same everywhere. That’s why I try and keep away from people. I want him to go away. picking his way through the ragged group of tents and shelters.
I keep my head down.’ he says again. bashing the tent peg into the hard ground with a rock. I can’t deal with this. Safety in numbers. trying to get me to make eye contact. mate. ‘No.Chapter 2: Adam ‘I know you. He’s too close. It’s happened too many times now. He’s tipping his face. ‘You’re Adam Dawson. clothes. Here we go again. ‘Adam. ‘You got
. I think. you saved my life. the bits of sawdust in his straggly beard. take what little you got – food. Sarah says. smiling. We have to stay near others.’
I’ve watched the guy moving closer. ‘I know you. ’cause you’re vulnerable on your own. My fingers tighten round the rock. We ain’t got nothing valuable. He reaches across and touches my sleeve. Less than a metre away. I can see the dirt under his fingernails.’ I twist away.
Ignore him and he might go away. he crouches down beside me. but people’ll still rob you. ‘Adam. even firewood. and my voice goes all croaky. too. But that’s dangerous. leaning forward to get a look at my face.
The world did come to an end – the world as we knew it. I’ve seen you. Come and join us. I look over towards Sarah and Mia. Sarah’s pretending to be busy. my burned skin. So did millions of others.’ ‘No. some sort of saviour. My flat was in the basement. I don’t want it. She’s tiny for a child who’s two. The networks and transmitters never got put back after the quake. full lips and eyes that don’t miss a thing.’ He means my scars. Mia’s sitting in our hand-barrow. right by the river. looking for dry twigs. to Sarah’s brothers. but I know she’s watching
. Come and eat with us. I saw you on the telly and I got out.’ I stop bashing the tent peg. And they remember me because I was right. And so I’m stuck in everyone’s memories as that mad-eyed. I’ll never forget you. scar-faced boy. your … face. There are no TVs or computers in England now. I’ve heard it over and over. staring into a TV camera and shouting the odds about the end of the world. but it was the last TV most people saw. You’re a hero. ‘We’ve got some meat. Adam. She’s almost like a little doll. anything that would do for kindling. I was only on the telly once. anyway. I was in London. when it’s clear I’m not going to talk. Someone shot a deer. watching as Sarah unrolls the mats we use for beds. Now everyone I talk to treats me like some sort of celebrity. no screens or phones. ‘You saved me. a big one. at the beginning of the Chaos. Marty and Luke are scuffing the leaves on the ground. Her arms and legs are as thin and brown as the twigs the boys are looking for.’ the man continues. with that mass of tight blonde curls. Meat … Can’t remember the last time we ate meat.the wrong bloke. It’s gotta be better than the nettle soup we were going to have.’ Same story. ‘Venison.
2572075. Sarah. ‘We will join you. and I can’t stand looking at them. It’s good to meet you. the questions. But I know what’s gonna come with it – the fuss. the back-slapping. I’ve been scarred by fire. His face lights up. easy as if she was slipping into a warm bath. it’s nearly killed me twice. The words sound like someone else’s. Cool. fifty years from now. The only thing stopping me is Sarah.’ He points to a tunnel-shaped tent. I know she’s heard every word. ‘Great. and I force myself to nod at him and smile. I couldn’t expect her to stay with me if I was blind as well. I’ve waited
. We’re in the bender furthest from the path. She don’t need to. The promise that we’ll be together. ‘I’m Daniel. Sometimes I could grab a flaming stick out of the middle of the fire and plunge it into my own eyes to stop me seeing. She’s hungry. I turn back to the stranger crouching next to me. My mouth floods with saliva at the thought of a square meal. seeing their numbers … Everyone. Stop me feeling the suffering and pain that’s waiting for every single person I meet. and her number speaks to me. I hate that I can see these numbers. I hate the feelings that come with them. but maybe it would take away the thing that hurts me most. with those blue eyes of hers. I can’t do that to her.’ I say. brings me the comfort and the warmth it always does – an ending full of light and love. moody. She looks straight at me. waiting for my reaction. by the way. restless. me and her. I’m difficult enough as it is. when she passes from this life.me out of the corner of her eye. Come over any time. She don’t say nothing. Adam. we all are. Thanks. I can’t stand people looking at me. pitched between two tree trunks. then. everywhere has a number – the day they’re gonna die.
Just took the skin off. the fire.’ She digs in one of our bags on the barrow and pulls out a tube of antiseptic cream. only a few cells making contact. I can’t handle it. Sarah comes nearer. They’re all the same. It was a mistake to say yes. I drop the rock. I raise my arm up and smash the rock down on the hook of the tent peg so heavily that the peg bends and I scrape my knuckles on the ground. It don’t work. It’s fucking difficult sometimes.’ ‘Ssh. then gently rubs it in. I feel my body relaxing. sucking hard to take the pain away. The end’s been turned over and over. to squeeze every last bit out. or the anger. looking after Mia and Marty and Luke – we’re still
. I’m already regretting it. he’s here. It’s so intimate – her fingertip touching my skin lightly. I hear him calling. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. Sarah. the anger dying away. did it?’ she says. Nothing does. Even after everything we’ve been through – the quake. It stops me saying what I want to say. ‘Don’t waste it on me. still sucking at my knuckles. I take my hand away from my mouth and inspect it. There’s not much left. And it don’t take the anxiety away neither. ‘Aargh! Fff … ow!’ I’m trying not to swear in front of the kids. He’s really here …’ There’s anxiety bubbling up inside me.’ She puts a tiny bit on the end of her finger and dots it onto my scrapes. Me and her. the gypsy life. ‘Be all right in a minute. I’m glad I’ve got my mouth full. brush the worst of the dirt off my fingers and put them in my mouth. the Chaos.a long time for this. ‘Thank you. ‘Carrie.’ As he strides off.’ she says.
‘Hurt. I shrug. I don’t want
to be around people.
their neighbours. but it’s so long since we had something like this that it’s almost overwhelming. can’t
. They were so quiet at first. The moment’s gone. cut off from their X-boxes and flat-screen TVs. She presses her lips together. Adam. I eat slowly. their faces glowing with the warmth of it. I hold her hands in both of mine. ‘Sarah. not the conversation. I want to be alone with her. And at this moment I’d give anything for the rest of the world to go away. her wide eyes looking at all the faces lit up by the fire. We’re staying. trying to concentrate on the food. His venison stew’s pretty watery.’ I beg. my arms around her and our faces close. cold. No one tells them off. They wipe at it and lick their fingers. Especially illness. I’ve never had brothers or sisters before. and I’m waiting for the questions. The fire that killed my nan took their mum and dad. We sit on logs around Daniel’s fire. pulls her hands away. didn’t know what to do with theirselves. Mia sits on Sarah’s lap. too. let’s go.’ I hate myself for sounding so desperate. food. water. ‘Let’s go somewhere else. with a haunted look in their eyes all the time. I stare at her finger. his partner Carrie. laughing. It’s good to see them filling their bellies. illness. hunger. It’s like she’s trying to remember them. It bothers me. The backslapping and the fuss is over. Daniel.together. how to make a fire. They hated being outside. They’re top boys. But we’ve learnt stuff together: how to set a trap for a rabbit. ‘We’ve just got here. The others are talking about the things people always talk about these days. Marty and Luke wolf it down so the gravy dribbles down their chins. savouring each mouthful.’ And so we stay. fuel.
and we manage. I don’t know the rules any more. Four hundred people killed. His hands are clenched in his lap. They’ve been here. metal to melt down. turning it back to me. ‘It’s not so bad here.’ someone says. ‘You’d have thought people would respect hospitals. supplies. But if one of us gets ill. the army. The police. wouldn’t you? But we became targets. ‘So what brings you here?’ he says. Where were they? Where the hell were they?’ He pauses for a moment. too dangerous. to keep warm. from the big cities. raided for drugs. Numbers.’ I look at Daniel. It freaks me out when I catch it in her eyes. gasping for breath. asking. looking at the floor. moving around. She’s got Nan’s number now. ‘I worked in a hospital in London. the government – they all abandoned us. ‘Dan’s a doctor. Too many people. Mia showed me that. most of my friends gone.’ He shakes his head. waiting for my answer. long hair tied back in a ponytail.pretend it don’t. are no comfort to me. the night of the quake. the sinews taut like wires from his fingers to his wrists. yellow fingernails. I left after the Battle of St Thomas’s in March 2028. ‘We’re just keeping our heads down. you know. Everyone’s quiet. what do we do? The boys have both got good numbers – 21112088 and 392092 – but numbers can change.’ he shrugs. We struggle to find food. ‘Used to be. the night of the fire. even good ones. From London. He don’t look like a doctor. Then he takes a deep breath.’ ‘There are people looking for you.’
. First question. It fitted right with Nan – it seems cruel now it belongs to Mia.’ I say. ‘You heading somewhere in particular?’ ‘Just away. She’s got a smoker’s death. before it was trashed by looters after the Chaos. Dirty beard.
I stop chewing and look up. slowly. ‘They didn’t give names. but I can’t eat no more. I got nothing to say to them or their spooks.’ ‘I heard bikes this afternoon when I was looking for Mia. If it’s the government looking. too. The thought makes my blood run cold. the only people who can still get petrol are the so-called government. ‘When?’ My throat’s gone dry. tried to silence me. Adam. My legs
. I don’t want nothing to do with gangs neither. I definitely don’t want to be found. But maybe not. I jump to my feet. I can’t be.’ ‘Didn’t you hear what he just said?’ She shakes her head. I can’t keep still. ‘People? Who?’ Daniel shakes his head.’ I sit down again. Besides. ‘Not now. I hoped my criminal record would have been wiped in the Chaos. ‘This morning. we gotta get out of here. and I won’t be banged up in a cell again.’ Sarah says to me. stay in the country. And we’re all tired. The sort of people you don’t grass to.’ I say. ‘It’s dark.’ Sarah frowns. It’s all I can do to get the word out. but contact like that makes me edgy. the armed thugs who own the cities now. ‘Shit. charged with a murder I never done. quietly. The stew is sitting in my stomach like a stone. Another reason to clear out.’ He grins. on motorbikes.’ He puts a hand on my shoulder. He’s trying to be reassuring.’ ‘We’re going in the morning then. We had a drone up here. The government had it in for me. ‘First light. Not in the dark. I was under arrest when the quake struck. ‘Shot it out of the sky. Three of them. or the gangs that have taken over the cities.
We have to stay here.’ she says. I had Mia on my own. ready to run. they will. They need to live somewhere. The buzz of conversation starts up again.are jiggling.’ She don’t get it.’ Sarah says. with Nan. I’m not being paranoid. she don’t understand how bad it is to be handcuffed. No one. ‘Think about what staying means. We got all we need with us.’ I look at her swelling belly. If they want to find us. ’cept I never realised what I’d got ’til it had gone and so had she.’ Home. Seems like years ago.’ I take no notice of her and plough on. if you hadn’t noticed.’ she says. ‘And what about my brothers?’ she says. We all do. Even after all this time. Sarah. keeping her voice low. I had a home once. on a grotty bathroom floor in the squat. ‘We can’t keep on the move for ever. We don’t know exactly how far gone she is but it must be seven or eight months. ‘We’ll talk about it later. ‘Home’s not a place. thrown in a cell. and I can’t walk miles any more. it’s people. looking at me or looking away. ‘I’m not going to be found. ‘I’m going to have a baby. Everyone around the fire falls silent. and I want this to be different. Adam.’ ‘Yeah. Sarah. ‘All right. ‘We’ve been at it for two years.’ I’m shouting now. after you. And I had another one.’
.’ ‘We need more people. ‘Mia. Daniel’s a doctor. And we can’t run faster than motorbikes. quietly. There are people after me. They need a home. No one’s going to take me away from you and lock me up again. completely powerless. but it stopped being home once Mum died.
Marty looks worried. all this pain.’ Sarah says quickly.’ I say.’ The boys trudge off.’ There’s something about the way she says it. I force a smile at Mia. ‘Mummy Daddy cross?’ Mia says. I never wanted all this death in my head. They might want to shake you by the hand and thank you. but I know she’s not buying it. trying to carry on the argument. People begin to gather up their bowls and drift away. My hand finds a piece of wood. Her words sting like a slap on the face. Adam. ‘We can’t keep running like this. Her eyes flick up to mine and then away. I didn’t ask for none of this. ‘I’m not cross. an edge. Adam.’ ‘Do you want me to leave you here?’ I say. boys. ‘I’ll take you back to your tent. Her eyes are fixed on us. whoever. Then it’s just Sarah and me and Mia by the fire. ‘Mia’s chipped. ‘I’m chipped. I can’t stand it. I pick up another log and do the same. Sarah flinches and Mia jumps. in a little voice. Even if it didn’t. I’m so bloody recognisable. ‘Come on. Perhaps you saved them. Sarah.’
. And then what?’ ‘We don’t even know what they want. I never wanted to see numbers.’ Daniel says to Marty and Luke. too. it came from. ‘I didn’t ask for this.So that’s it. That drone could’ve picked us up and sent our location back to wherever. and I launch it into the fire with such force that sparks fly up.’ Almost without thinking I put my hand up to my scarred skin. Maybe hours. ‘If we stay it’ll only be days before they find us. The laughter and the warmth of the meal’s gone from their faces. ‘Do you want me to go?’ I say. missing nothing. but it don’t stop me. Like she’s mocking me.
with a girlfriend and three children to look after.
. or the next. All I know is it’s gonna end one day because I see the end everywhere. But we have to go. Do you think I want this?’ ‘Do you think any of us want this?’ she says. And now my stomach’s churning. It could all be over tomorrow or the next day. and no home and no food. I know I’m ranting. And even that isn’t certain because it could all change. in everyone. If she’s not on my side no more. and I wish I didn’t.Mia’s eyes are filling with tears. and Sarah’s not looking at me. but I can’t stop. a baby on the way. and it’s never gonna get better. It’s not safe here. ‘I’m eighteen. then I got nothing.
’ ‘What?’ ‘I’m not leaving. They’re nice people. but I’m doing it anyway. I’m going back to sleep. I can’t see his features.’ I pull my sleeping bag up around my ears and turn my back to him. slowly.Chapter 3: Sarah Adam shakes my shoulder before
it’s even light. I’m scared of what I’m going to do next. Even inside the tent.’ he hisses. ‘Sarah.’ ‘Yeah.’ I take a deep breath in. ‘It’s time to get up. and then push the air out – slowly. ‘It’s time. please. ‘Sarah. the cold air is nipping at my face. I want to stay here for the winter. We’re packing up this morning. My heart’s thumping. ‘I don’t want to go. Have I done the right thing?
. Moving on. and I lie there listening to Adam’s silence. you are. He’s a dark shape next to me. ‘I’m not leaving. We have to go. slowly.’ I wriggle round so I’m facing him again. Adam. The blood’s beating in my ears.’ But I don’t.’ he whispers.’ ‘Sarah—’ ‘No. There’s a doctor and there’s food.
and numbers. And Adam’s not anyone’s father. ‘Dada’. think it often enough. Sarah?’ She did it again. sitting by the side of the road. When she said it to him that first time – ‘Da da da da’ – his face changed. I love . I remind myself now Love. which is unusual. Her eyes are pink and glassy. places.
Love him. though Mia calls him Daddy. and it was like he’d forgotten everything else. Me. but everything’s all mixed up: people. We were dog-tired. He scooped her up and danced around with her. so I’m the nearest thing to a mum they’re going to have now. Adam Dawson.
. Luke. And the gentle snoring of the kids tells me that we all need a rest. and reached her arms up towards him.But my swelling ankles tell me it’s right. and her cheeks are flushed. just for a minute. perhaps I’ll still believe it. It’s a funny sort of family. Adam. It was like the sun coming out. When she eventually crawls out of the tent. And my blistered hands tell me it’s right. Marty and Luke have already left to forage in the forest. It reminded me why I loved him. but Mia was wide awake. words. hadn’t even put a tent up. I can’t ever be the boys’ proper mum – I’ll always be their sister – but I’m the only relative they’ve got left. Mia’s the last to wake. I close my eyes and try to empty my head of it all. Always numbers. Marty. not loved. But it’s difficult if you know that when he looks in your eyes he can see you dying. to let sleep wash over me and blank me out.
If I say it often enough. It’s time to stop moving and just be a family for a while. ‘Did you hear what she said? Did you hear. Mia – and the new baby.
Daniel produces a full bottle from one of the rucksack pockets. She’s red hot. Their fates swapped. ‘The government’s got a stash.’ he says. He takes her temperature. his nan. I don’t know how it happened. Will it happen now if her temperature gets too high? ‘Daniel. her legs and arms all stiff. You just need
. and sometimes we’re lucky enough to find a sachet. died in the fire instead.’ It’s only a couple of minutes until Daniel comes. as he crawls into the tent. ‘I’ll get Daniel. He pulls out a stethoscope from his rucksack and listens to her chest. But a full bottle … ‘I’ve got quite a bit of … kit. ‘Let’s have a look. ‘Nearly forty.’ Adam says. but it feels like hours.’ she whispers. The night of the quake – in the heat of the fire – she had some kind of fit. I look at it. Let’s give her some paracetamol.’ he mutters sheepishly. outside the burning house.’ ‘Shit. I can still see her twitching in Adam’s arms. Her breath is sour and sickly. Where did he get a full bottle of medicine? We check every empty house and shop. ‘How? Where from?’ He smiles. Their numbers swapped. ‘Not too bad. then at him.’ This is the thing we dread: Mia getting a temperature.’ ‘Have you got some?’ Our last supplies ran out months ago.’ he says. she’s burning up. I swoop down next to her and put my hand on her forehead.‘Me poorly. ‘Adam. She was meant to die that day – but Adam got her out and Val. Her nose is blocked and she’s breathing through her mouth. That’s when her number changed.
’ I really want to believe it.’ ‘And you do?’ ‘I’ve got contacts.’ I turn back to Mia. ‘Maybe. Adam looks in.’ He sighs. ‘We don’t have much choice. I don’t see numbers. We’ll be all right. ‘Thank you.to know how to get at it.’ he says finally. Adam told me. 2022054. ‘It’ll be all right. Twenty-five years left.’ ‘So this is a good place to stay. My daughter can’t die aged twentyseven.’ I know it’s a big deal for him. like Adam. I feel …’ He struggles to find the words. shall we say. I feel sick at the thought. but it’s not enough. ‘He’s got a whole bag of tricks. ‘Like a sitting duck.’ ‘I know. ‘Looks like a virus. it’s too young.’ ‘Government ones?’ He smiles again but doesn’t say anything more. She’s calmer already.’ he says. but I know hers.’ I say.’ I say. ‘He’s got medicine. ‘I’m going to start a fire.’ He crawls out again. If it all goes wrong. It’s better than the lifespan she started with.
. Her trusting eyes fix on mine and her number fills my head. ‘Keep her drinking and I’ll give her paracetamol every four hours.’ he says. ‘Just don’t blame me if …’ ‘If what?’ ‘I dunno. but he doesn’t sound convinced. Adam.
Mummy. All I can think is that twenty-five years is nothing. I’d give it to her. but still blonde. of course I would. I’d give my life for Mia. Tears stream down my cheeks. like Val did? But how? How did she do it? If it would help her. a better number. I wish I didn’t know. It’s like a halo. this curse. ‘Don’t. Mia puts her clammy hand up to my face. but right now. It’s not natural to know this stuff. It’s not his fault. darker and curlier than ever.
Could I give her mine. Adam’s brought this gift. I resent him for it. I hate him. It crushes you. into our lives. It’ll be over in the blink of an eye. Mummy sad?’ I don’t want to upset her but I can’t stop crying. Her hair is damp from her sweat.She needs to find another number.
. I gather her into my arms. at this moment.
But I’m frightened of her. She don’t have the number she was born with. and so am I. That’s a long time. I was only five. I’ve been scared for most of my life. I always thought she’d be there for me. I can’t help wondering: did Mia take Nan’s number? Was it murder? Or did Nan give it to her? No one knows what happened. It’s not fair. but I can’t help it. her skin all tanned from living outdoors. Should I go back in
the tent? I wait outside for a moment. I thought she was safe. ever since I realised what the numbers meant. None of this is fair. It reminds me every time of Nan and that terrible day in the fire. like it’s not there. She had twenty-seven years left. Her number sort of shimmers in my head. There one minute. too. it’s her number. But she weren’t. at the start of the Chaos. She died. then I walk away into the forest. that I could rely on her. I can’t blame her for being scared. A golden child. Nan wasn’t meant to die that day. isn’t it? She’s a beautiful child – with those blue eyes. listening. It’s our secret – mine and
. gone the next. that blonde hair.Chapter 4: Adam I hear Sarah sobbing as I make the fire. I get this spooky feeling when I look in her eyes. I didn’t want Mia to die so I walked into the fire to save her. And of course it’s not her looks that freak me out. I’m ashamed. I can’t even think about it now without getting a lump in my throat. It’s wrong. She’s frightened for Mia. But I didn’t want Nan to die neither. People look at her wherever we go – after they’ve clocked me first.
close my eyes and breathe in. and laughing and joking. I put my arm round Sarah and rest my hand on her waist. I’ve never even told Sarah.
. ‘They’re back. we gather together around Daniel’s fire again. They’re pushing each other. I don’t know how it all works. But what about next time? Sarah’s right – we do need people. She looks more like an angel than ever. I kiss the top of her head. But what happened that night of the fire wasn’t right. It’s rabbit stew this time.Sarah’s – and I reckon it should stay that way. Beneath my fingers I can feel the baby moving. The sort of people you don’t grass to. Then I realise everyone’s looking at me. And this feeling about Mia. grab the boys’ hands. She leans in to me. as it gets louder. If Mia can change things to save herself. Marty and Luke caught the rabbits – they’re feeling proud. it makes me warm and woozy. For a moment.
Three men on motorbikes. I don’t know what the rules are any more. and then. just a split second. The hot food’s intoxicating. listening to the singing. I can tell.
I jump to my feet. It’s like it’s part of the singing. Daniel’s paracetamol did the trick. It wasn’t natural. Someone starts singing. an old song. She seems better.’ Daniel says. The light from the flames flickers on our silent faces. We were right to stay. He don’t need to say who. I’m happy. The noise of the engines is so quiet at first I hardly notice it. everyone hears it at the same time and the singing stops. does someone else always have to pay the price? In the evening. Mia’s gazing into the fire and the flames cast a rosy light on her face.
and stop just outside the circle. But I can’t just sit still. picking our way between shelters and out into the dark forest where we huddle together. She puts her hand up to my wrist. facing the camp. but I’ve got to move. almost square.’ Daniel says. clipped. It’s not just their clothes that makes them different. There’s an obvious gap in the places we’ve left – why did no one think to close it up? Every eye’s on the men. His face is pale. it’s the way they carry theirselves. trying to stop me. The sound of the bikes has stopped.’ I say. Thirty? Sixty? ‘We don’t want to break up the party.’ Marty and Luke look at Sarah. ‘Adam. We’re all here for you. He looks round the circle and everyone nods in agreement. We stumble away from the fire. He’s got grey hair. Now. We can see here. They sweep the beams of their torches to either side as they approach. Soon I can see three figures moving: men in black leather jackets and trousers. ‘Let’s go. but I couldn’t say how old he is.’ he says.’
. ‘Adam …’ It’s no good. cut short. stay put.‘Come on. His voice is deep but sharp. He’s speaking for all of them. but not be seen.’ I say. but now there are three points of light bobbing towards the fire. and their weapons: army-issue rifles slung over their shoulders and a belt of ammo across their chests. with Mia in her arms. like he hasn’t been outside for a while. ‘Please. and a strong jaw. She sees the look on my face and struggles up. I know it’s not logical. I can’t. The man in the middle steps forward. ‘Just looking for somewhere to stay the night. black gauntlets. black boots.
The boys are quiet. But not a giveaway neither. who’s curled up in her arms. There’s no reaction from the people by the fire. Sarah holds her in closer. but he’s gone now. ‘You’re welcome to stay. Mia starts to cough. or will they save their own skins? ‘I’ve seen him.’ ‘Sh. but nothing can muffle the noise completely. ‘How long?’ ‘He left just after lunch. ‘Dragons.’ The three of them step closer to the fire and take up our places in the circle. ‘You know who we’re looking for. It’s cold now we’re beyond the reach of the fire. To his left there’s a smaller guy. ‘He passed this way.’ says Daniel. ‘We’ll find you some food too. The other one is huge. with their backs to us. a mountain of a man with long dark hair. ‘Have you seen him? Have you seen Adam Dawson?’ I hold my breath. Sarah shushes Mia. something hot.’
.Sounds innocent enough. Will Daniel and the others lie? Will they save us. Sarah’s face is pinched and anxious. Mia whimpers. relaxed feeling we had round the fire is long gone. Everyone faces the flames in silence. Three travellers in need of some sleep. Then the questions start. yes.’ says the man with grey hair. wiry and mean-looking. Next to me.’ she’s whispering. watching like us. strictly speaking. shh.’ The warm. hiding her face in her hands. Mia. ‘Noisy dragons.’ Not a lie. Marty and Luke are shivering. The man who spoke is obviously the leader.’ Daniel says.
but he’s still civil. I don’t need one. The three strangers walk away into the darkness to fetch their things. How far do you think we’ll get?’ ‘I don’t know.’ I say. There are babies asleep. It’s a grating sound. it’s getting late. no one will go far in this darkness. ‘What do we do now?’ Sarah whispers. The evening’s over. People start making their way back to their shelters. My name’s Saul. will they?’ Daniel don’t answer the question.’ Daniel shrugs. We just need somewhere to hide. Why not wait until morning?’ Saul pauses. ‘You want to search in the dark?’ ‘That’s right. ‘We get our stuff and go. like he doesn’t use it often. that’s all you need to know.’ So it is the government.’ Daniel nods. I don’t have a warrant. I’m on government business. It’s getting late now. but Saul wasn’t asking permission. I feel the world crashing in on me. We’ll just bed down in our sleeping bags near the fire. He says. ‘We’ve got nothing to hide here. Is it the old murder charge? Is that why they’re here? Daniel’s looking uncomfortable now. ‘But it’s pitch black out here. ‘No. After all. but these are our homes. brother. ‘Do you have a tent?’ ‘We do. but you’re right. ‘We could – I suppose.’ ‘In the dark?’
.‘So you won’t mind if we search the camp?’ ‘Do you have a warrant?’ The man laughs.
matey.’ We watch as the three men put their sleeping bags on the ground near the fire. The cold’s starting to bite.Why doesn’t she understand? Why isn’t she scared of these men? Why can’t she just agree with me for once? Mia starts coughing again.’ ‘It’s not her fault. Everyone else has gone now. ‘Why don’t you come nearer to the fire. They talk quietly amongst themselves. too. like men used to spending time together. Then.’ says Mia softly.’
. raises his voice and calls out into the night air. jokey. Sh. the fire’s starting to die down. ‘Stop coughing. without turning around. Look. ‘Man go away. ‘Away. rocking her back and forth. the man with the grey hair. They have a bottle. My body jerks as a shiver runs down my spine. The gold liquid catches the light of the fire as they pass it between them. I need to think. How long before they go to sleep and we can tiptoe away? The bottle’s nearly empty. Mia.’ Sarah unbuttons her coat and wraps it round Mia. Mia. they’re coming back. shh. Saul. Adam? You must be freezing out there.
’ she keeps saying through her tears. though there aren’t any walls
behind us. just miles and miles of dark. this. I can feel the leader’s dark eyes on me. and I want to slap him away. ‘She sounds bad. At least I don’t need to argue with Adam any more.Chapter 5: Sarah It feels like we’re cornered. ‘It’s a clever little thing. The three men turn to watch us. Then he laughs. And I heard the child coughing. Marty and Luke are hiding behind me. He must have heard Mia coughing. I’m not scared at first. empty forest. and to the men looking at us. and her thin little body is racked with tears and coughs. I get the creeps. with superhuman powers. burrowing her head under my armpit. a werewolf.’
. but she’s cowering inside. a vampire.’ ‘How did you know we were there?’ Adam asks. Someone. ‘Help me up. Saul switches his attention away from me.’ And just for a moment I believe him – he’s a devil. Mia starts to cry. but as we get closer to the fire. ‘I picked up your chip in my beam. ‘Man go away. something.’ he adds.’ He pats the torch hanging off his belt. and we all shuffle forward. ‘Away. ‘I could sense you.’ I say to Adam. It’s as if he’s touching me. I wrap my coat further round her. and I realise I’ve been holding my breath.
who neither agrees nor puts him straight. turning her head towards him. His voice sounds strange. He’s not talking to me but to Adam. I’ve never seen her react like this to anyone. his thumb prising open her eyelid. Looks like an angel but screams like a devil. just steps away. trying to shush Mia. It makes me feel sick. that harsh. You frightened her. ‘Adam?’ But he’s looking at Saul like the rest of the world doesn’t exist.’ ‘No.’ he says.
. and then he laughs again.’ But Adam’s not moving. let’s go.’ I say. ‘Come on. I hate this man.’ I hate him. who thinks nothing of waking a child up and laughs when she cries. I can’t believe he touched her. ‘Let me look at her. ‘She’s frightened. then her chest heaves. But he carries on staring at her. Like I don’t exist.’ I say. Adam. ‘I’ll be there in a minute. ‘Get off her!’ Adam and I are both shouting now. shielding her. ‘but I need to get her into bed now. unnatural sound.’ I say. her arms and legs shoot out. forced. Saul doesn’t apologise. ‘What are you—? Stop it!’ ‘Mum-my!’ Mia sobs. Her frightened blue eye stares up at him.’ ‘Is this your daughter?’ Saul says. and she starts to kick and yell. ‘The girl in the woods. holding Mia closer. And now his fingers are touching her face. He grabs my lapel and peels the front of my coat back. but Saul’s on his feet and reaching towards me before I know it.‘She’s fine. ‘She’s a noisy one.’ he says.
Mia stretches her arms above her. After a while she puts her thumb in her mouth and turns onto her side. black night skies.
. Marty and Luke fall asleep instantly but it takes me ages to settle Mia down again. I start to sing softly. studded with stars. She opens and closes her hands. trying not to wake my brothers. It’s her favourite. Twinkle. That’s one thing we gained from the Chaos – deep. Mia loves stars. It’s sleep time. I tuck a blanket round her. then I slip out of the tent and sit outside to wait for Adam.’ she hiccups between sobs. ‘Don’t worry about him now. shooting stars. Little Star’.I leave him there. stroking her hair. and a moon that’s as familiar to us as the sun.’ ‘Mummy sing “Twinkle”?’ ‘Twinkle. ‘I don’t either.’ I say. ‘No like man. planets and constellations. making them twinkle.
His number shimmers in my head. There one minute. the more it dances in and out of focus. I make myself stand square. 1622029. It’s extraordinary. but I don’t want him to know how scared I am. But it’s not the date that’s getting to me. to break away from his pain. I’ve never felt anything like it. It’s something else. I want to look away. the shimmering – makes me feel giddy. I can’t explain. Have a drink. every surface screaming. with scraping. except it feels like death from the outside in. The ground’s shifting underneath my feet. but there’s something else. That stuff. light and dark all mixed up. though.Chapter 6: Adam W e stand two metres apart. looking at each other. Ain’t got much choice – my legs
.’ ‘Thanks. gnawing. The more I try and get a fix on it. ‘but I don’t.’ I do sit down. his number blows me away. piercing pain all over his body. ‘Adam. It’s the death itself. There’s
a white scar above his left eye. and death from the inside out. The whole thing – the death. every cell collapsing. look him right in the eyes. gone the next.’ Saul says. I’m nearly shitting myself. Drink. all coming together in a white point of agony. ‘Sit down. a split second of pain and despair and rage and panic. And when I do.’ I say.
to silence me. I told her. trying to control the panic that’s washing through me. Whoever this guy is.’ ‘For murder.’ ‘Yeah. he knows a lot about me. ‘I tried to tell them two years ago and they tried to shut me up. I didn’t kill nobody. Too much. ‘But the government don’t want to know. We need people like you. Nobody’s ever called me gifted before.’ It’s like there’s a hand clutching at my throat. I told Sarah. my voice higher than I want it to be. Gifted people. We’re putting this country back on track.
Who is this man? What sort of death could feel like that?
‘Why were you looking?’ I say. ‘What do you want me for?’ ‘I’ve come to take you away from all this.’ Saul says. They’re after me and they want to take me away. I’m concentrating on my breathing.’ I’m properly scared now.’ I say.have turned to jelly. Adam. ‘Gifted. Strong people.’ ‘But I didn’t do it! I was being framed. trying out the word for size. whatever he is. and they melt away into the darkness. reaches out for the whisky bottle and swigs the dregs.’ I say. ‘You took some finding. Things are different now. We want your
. ‘That was then. Saul nods at the other two men. ‘Take me? Where? Why?’ ‘We work for the government. People who can lead.’ That throws me. He sits down next to me.’ ‘They arrested you.
help.’ ‘What help could I be now? I already told everyone the end was coming – and it came.’ ‘But it’s not the end, Adam,’ he explains. ‘It’s the start, the start of a new world where people like you are listened to, respected, valued. You can make a difference.’ I don’t know what to say. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘People listened to you before. They started getting out of London. They’ll listen to you again. You can be a figurehead. Where you see danger, you can warn people – get them away from areas that are going to flood, out of buildings that are going to collapse. You can get children to feeding stations. You can help, Adam. You can help us rebuild this country.’ I don’t believe him. Why would the people that tried to silence me before want my help now? ‘It took you long enough to find me. I’m chipped. You could’ve picked me up any time you liked.’ ‘We’ve been putting the information infrastructure back together. The software, the systems. We had the drones but we couldn’t communicate with them. We can now. We’ve got phones, too – a basic network up and running again. We’re piecing things back together, back how they used to be, but we need people like you.’ ‘I want to help people, of course I do, but—’ ‘You don’t have to live like this,’ he carries on as if I hadn’t said anything. ‘You don’t have to live the way this lot do, sitting in the dirt like savages. Your kids don’t have to go hungry or cold. They don’t have to be ill.’ ‘What d’you mean?’ ‘There are places with electricity, heat, food, medicine.’ ‘In England?’
‘England, Scotland, Wales. There are pockets of civilisation left. Enclaves. For the ones who can contribute.’ ‘Cities?’ He shrugs. ‘Parts of cities, some buildings, country estates, farms. Places that thought ahead. Planned. Wind turbines, solid fuel burners, solar panels. Some of them survived intact. Others have been repaired.’ He smiles and throws his empty bottle into the fire. ‘It’s going to be a hard winter, Adam. Hardest since 2010.’ I know he’s right. There are at least three people in the camp who won’t make it to the spring. I think of Marty and Luke and Mia and Sarah, of the last two years just getting by.
Pockets of civilisation.
The thought of being indoors, warm and dry, is almost painful. ‘What would I have to do?’ Saul claps me on the back like it’s a done deal. ‘Play your part, my friend. Play your part. We’re laying the foundations for a different society, where intuition and science work hand in hand. The old ways and the new. People who are special, people like you, who’ve been misunderstood, we want to understand you.’
Gifted. Misunderstood. Understand.
I know he’s choosing his words carefully, spinning them. I can feel he’s pulling my strings and I don’t like it. But they’re warm words. They make me feel warm. ‘Talk to Sarah about it,’ he says, all calm. ‘Talk to her now. Come back and tell me what she says.’ ‘She’s probably asleep by now. I don’t want to wake her.’
‘So talk to her first thing. I’ll still be here.’ I picture him sitting there all night. Waiting for my answer. And only one answer will do.
Chapter 7: Sarah I hear him before I see him, the twigs snapping under his
boots. ‘What did they want?’ There’s a knot of fear in the pit of my stomach. ‘They want me to help them, help the government.’ ‘Why you?’ ‘Because of my … gift. I can see where trouble’s coming and get people away from it. Like I did in the Chaos.’ ‘Adam, these are the same people that tried to stop you then. What’s changed?’ ‘I think they just understand now that I can be useful. They see me as a leader.’ This sounds like bullshit to me. ‘I don’t trust them,’ I say. ‘Neither do I,’ he says, ‘but they’re saying we can go with them, go to somewhere warm and dry, where they’ve got doctors, electricity, everything we haven’t had for two years. You want to settle somewhere, Sarah. You want somewhere safe for Marty and Luke, and Mia and the baby. This could be it.’ ‘I thought we’d found it here.’ ‘Here’s still living in a tent in a wood, isn’t it? What Saul’s talking about is different. Back to civilisation. You can tell they’ve all had enough food. They’re well kitted out. They’ve come from somewhere that’s okay.’
Somewhere that’s okay. In my head I’m back at my parents’ house, before the quake, before I ran away. There’s deep soft carpet under my bare toes; I’m sinking into a claw-foot bath full of bubbles; watching Hollywood blockbusters on a wall-sized screen. I’ve got everything … the sort of life people dream about. But it’s rotten to the core. My family was poisoned and the house was a beautiful cage in which my dad could do whatever he wanted. And he did – night after night after night. ‘People make a home, Adam. You said that. And that man’s a thug. You saw what he did to Mia.’ ‘But we can save Mia and your brothers from living like animals. Think about it. Regular food, a roof over our heads.’ ‘I don’t know. I don’t trust him.’ ‘You haven’t heard what he’s offering. You talk to him in the morning. You’ll see.’ I look at him closely. There’s something about him. His eyes are flicking all over the place. He’s not being straight with me.
The other two aren’t there. He’s still sitting next to the fire. All we get is ‘south’. Sarah. it just draws attention to it. just the way he said he would. I don’t even know what The Cotswolds is. Take an hour or so. But she’s pulling her coat further round her and instead of hiding her stomach. and then. ‘The Cotswolds’. more like she used to be when we first got together. The sleeping bags and the rifles have gone. She obviously knows more than me. and I know the penny’s dropped. waiting.Chapter 8: Adam At
first light.’ ‘There are five of us and three of you.’ Sarah says.’ he says. ‘Eight into three doesn’t go. Saul looks her up and down. eventually. one pillion per bike. and I can’t—’ She stops mid-sentence and I realise she doesn’t want Saul to know about the baby. Mia can’t go on a bike and I don’t think the boys should either. ‘That must be fifty miles from here. Anyway. It’s pretty impressive. Sarah fires questions at him. don’t want to tell us exactly where we’d be going. or are. we leave the boys and Mia sleeping. He don’t want to answer her. ‘How would we get there?’ ‘Got some big bikes here. ‘You’re right. So it’s one rider. and make our way to where I left Saul. Up to three
. that’s all. But I can tell Saul’s impatient. She’s like a Rottweiler.
and Mia. firmly. but it don’t matter what he says now. I’m thinking warm beds. We won’t leave my brothers. I’ve made my mind up and I know it’s the right thing to do. and I feel the tension go out of them. Then he turns back to me.’ I say. tell him.’ He lunges towards me. He looks around quickly.’ They both turn to look at me. Saul. I’m thinking hot food. I know Adam is important to you but he’s also important to all of us. I’m thinking helping people. if you like. I don’t have time to react. or had you forgotten?’ Sarah’s barged out of the way and she staggers sideways. ‘In that case you don’t give me any option.passengers – Adam. ‘We’ll stay here for the winter.’ He clenches his jaw and there’s a flash of temper in his eyes. Tell him!’ ‘This isn’t a time for selfishness – it’s a time to think about what we can do for others. ‘No. using the numbers like I did before. ‘That’s it. shoves me round and twists my arm up behind my back.’ Saul says smoothly.’ I say. You’ve got a murder charge to answer. grabs my wrist. It’s all so quick. ‘I’m arresting you. like he’s scoping out who’s where. I have to be with her now and she ain’t going nowhere without the boys. ‘Are you saying I’m selfish to care about my family?’ She’s really riled now. ‘Is that it?’ he says. ‘Never.’ Just for a moment her jaw drops. ‘Your final word?’ There’s a warning note in his voice. Adam.’ I put my hands on Sarah’s shoulders. you. But I know Sarah’s right. Adam Dawson. ‘Yeah. but there’s a bigger picture here. ‘Not now.’ she says. ‘No. He’s yanking my arm up so hard it feels like it’s going to come
That guy.’ he says again. ‘Let him go. his eyes fixed on Saul.’ Saul spits. Step away from him. but it’s not aimed at me. it’ll get blown off. He’s calm. Adam. Watching him. If I see your face in our camp again. I can’t tell who’s going to crack. Saul. I turn to Daniel. Twenty metres away. ‘No problem. A moment later we hear the bikes starting up. get out of here. Then he drops it. I want to slam my fist in his face. I feel cold inside. Daniel and Saul stare each other out. I’m guessing he’s trying to neutralise you. ‘You can’t pull a gun on me. he does a good job as a Wild West sheriff. This is my camp.’ I say. My arm flops to my side.’ Saul backs away with his hands up.out of its socket. I stumble a couple of paces away from Saul then turn and face him. ‘Bastard!’ I gasp. Adam.’
. ‘Let him go. All I can hear is the blood pounding in my ears as Saul tightens his grip on my wrist. ‘Right. you. ‘Thanks. You’re not welcome here any more. Saul.’ Daniel’s in control. His face is like thunder.’ I look up and I’m staring at the barrel of a gun. For such a chilled guy. he turns and stalks off into the forest. ‘That’s it. Daniel’s got Saul in his sights. and don’t come back. ‘I’m acting for the government.’ ‘I don’t give a stuff about your government. man. Let Adam go and get out. You’re a legend.’ For a few seconds there’s silence. He pulls harder. He’s not the sort of bloke who forgives and forgets. Now.
‘Cheers. It’s all right. almost ghost-like. Always.’ We walk through the camp to our tent. and I make to high-five him but he grabs my hand and pulls me in for a hug. ‘What do you think they’ll do next?’ Daniel asks. It’s people that matter. trying to keep the tears away. it feels like the whole place is breathing a sigh of relief. not for anyone.‘What?’ ‘Take you out of circulation. get out of your hair.’ ‘Who needs me?’ Daniel looks surprised.’ ‘They’ve gone now. 3152066. ‘stay here.’ ‘No. People are tending to their fires. They’re yelling. ‘They’ve gone now. We’ve all been hoping you’d come.’ she says.’ ‘Sarah?’ She’s quiet and pale beside me. But they’ll be back. listening to the sound of the bikes leaving. away from the people who need you. I s’pose. You’re welcome. There was a frost last night and now the sunlight filters through the branches above us. And you’ll always have friends here. Then I hear Marty and Luke. After the tension of the last twelve hours. ‘I don’t like guns. There’s no always. He was right about that – you’re important to all of us. Sarah was right to remind me. ‘All of us. A bit of back-slapping and we draw apart. Adam. We should move on.’ I look him in the eye.
.’ he says. Don’t think they’ll leave it at that. I put my arm round her. ‘I dunno. making the ground sparkle.’ I say. I’m blinking hard. but I get what he’s trying to say and I appreciate it.
I see the back of the tent. Finally. ‘Mia … Mia …’ is all Marty can say. First I see Luke lying outside the tent. It’s slashed from top to bottom. his face streaked with tears. holding his face.
. His breath’s coming in ragged bursts. Mia’s bed is empty. I sprint towards the tent and dive in.Sarah and I run. Then Marty running towards us. She’s gone.
Chapter 9: Sarah They’ve taken her. I’m way behind Adam. While we were talking to him … ‘Marty. not like this. What did you see?’ I grip his shoulders. waiting. too.
For a moment I’m paralysed. I’ll be back. They skid round and face us: one. his
. She’s wrapped in her stripy blanket and the big man with the long hair is holding her. I shake him. Marty. It …’ Adam’s on his feet and running into the forest. and look after Luke. My stomach throws me off balance. He’s fast. He tries to squirm away from me. It’s not my fault. I’m looking past Adam at that gaping hole. I reach the road a split second before the riders do. three. still crying. Mia’s on the second bike. tell me. but there’s pure adrenalin in my veins now. The other took Mia … Don’t shout. ‘What did you see?’ I scream. ‘I didn’t mean to … Stay there. I have to get to her. Maybe it’s not too late. the edge of the tent flapping gently. He’s heading towards the road. I used to be but not any more. crunching. slipping. scrambling after Adam. ‘One hit Luke in the face. I can hear the engines revving and stuttering.’ he sobs. I’m sorry. Someone must have been watching. ‘I’m sorry. We’ve only been gone a few minutes. I have to. Saul’s men. They’re not clear of the woods yet.’ I say. thrashing through frosty brushwood. ‘It was those men.’ And then I’m running. two.
Saul and his mates aren’t fazed by us. Then another and another. It’s Daniel. She’s struggling. Her face is a picture of terror. sliding along the road. ‘I’m going for their tyres!’ ‘Mia’s on one of them. but I can’t just let them go without trying to stop them. The other two bikes are slowing – they’ve twigged that they’re a man down. and throw myself at him. I don’t want Mia’s bike to crash. Adam jumps out of the way. The third bike weaves to the left and then they’re away. His eyes are on Mia and the second bike. teeth gritted against the pain. and I’m thrown backwards. Something’s thrown clear. in our direction.arm clamped round her middle. One of the bikes skids and goes over. trying to block their path. He’s shooting right at them. Was it the second bike that went down? Is it Mia? Adam and Daniel and I start running at the same time. putting both hands on the barrel of his gun and pushing it up towards the sky. ‘No! No! Mia!’ There’s an explosion next to me. My heart skips a beat. The bikes are huge – great hunks of angry metal. I’m in
. no more. I can’t work out who’s on the ground. Stop it!’ He drops the gun away from his face. It’s insane. ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ I heave myself up. He tries to grab the handlebars. ‘Mia!’ I scream. and for a moment she stops struggling and looks up. accelerating down the road. Saul blasts past first. ‘Mia!’ Adam’s sprinting towards the bikes. then they rev up and launch themselves forward. They pause for a second. The bike swerves away from him and towards me. From here. The wing mirror hits me in the chest.
He doesn’t look my way – or at Adam.
. gasping and sobbing. He doesn’t turn his head. We stop in our tracks. ‘Saul! Saul! Please …’ I’m gasping now. stumbling towards him. ‘Mia. All my breath seems to leave my body.agony. and shoots three times. and you shot at my men. ‘Drop your gun. pulls a revolver from his belt. the barrel pointing at the man’s chest. he gets to his feet. Mia. holds his arm out straight. examining the body on the ground. Adam’s closer. willing myself to go faster. It’s Saul. terrified. The bike’s going to get there first. put your hands up and keep them up. The rider dismounts. I’m shouting as I’m running now. He looks up and swings his straightened arm towards us. I stretch my legs out. appalled.’ Daniel drops his rifle and we do as we’re told. She’s gone. One body. Mia’s on the other bike with the long-haired man. but he can’t hear me or he doesn’t care. ‘You shot at me. It’s the wiry man. I’m fifty metres away now as it screams to a halt. One of the bikes is turning round. or Daniel. Instead. Mia’. A pool of dark liquid is spreading out over the tarmac. the other is carrying on down the road. The body jerks with the force of the bullets. He points the revolver at Daniel. Saul’s eyes are cold and steely. All I can think of is Mia. It’s only then that Saul seems to notice Adam and Daniel and me. He’s crouching down. No reaction. but I don’t stop.’ he says. He is completely calm. cradle my stomach with my hands.
My stomach contracts. the skin as tight as a drum across the baby inside me. You kick it out.’ He tries to wrestle the bike upright.’ Still with his hands above his head. pick this bike up.’ ‘It’s not for you. too.’ Adam stares at the corpse on the ground and the black pool of blood around it. It’s for Sarah.’ ‘What?’ ‘You heard me. I’m going too. ‘Shut up. I’m screaming. ‘What?’ Adam’s in shock. Daniel falls to the ground.’ The sound of my name makes my blood freeze. Sarah. Saul looks at him with barely disguised contempt. The barrel of the gun moves in my direction.
. Adam stumbles to the bike. ‘I don’t wannit. ‘Stand it up. He hesitates. It’s a beast of a machine and it takes him a couple of goes to manage it. My legs are shaking now. Now take his helmet. Do it. The engine’s still running. His eyes are almost blank with terror.’ It could be my turn next. ‘Pick this bike up.’ ‘Put it on its stand. ‘Can you ride one of these?’ ‘I’ve never tried.’ Saul barks. screaming and clutching his knee. ‘Adam.He fires. Now.
’ Adam says to me. ‘Don’t worry. God. is making me gag. ‘I don’t want to. ‘I’m pregnant. Someone. The helmet gets stuck when he tries to lift it off and he yanks at it. ‘Can’t I? Shut up and get that helmet on.
. Saul mounts his bike and pats the saddle behind him with the gun. ‘The boys? What about my brothers?’ I say.’ Adam says. under his breath. Inhuman.‘No.’ ‘You’ll sit behind me. the blood from his leg’s pouring onto the road. Be brave.’ says Saul. I take one last look at Daniel. Luke … It’s too quick. Marty. Don’t make me ride a bike. Give the helmet to Sarah and then get on that bike. bringing his gun up once more. ‘God. his blood going in my hair.’ The thought of putting on a dead man’s helmet.’ Adam helps me onto Saul’s bike. but I have to.’ He raises the helmet over my head and brings it down. ‘Not on a bike. My voice is muffled by the helmet. ‘It’ll be safer for you. surely someone will look after them. I have to hope they’ll be looked after. His eyes are closing. You can’t make me.’ He’s immovable. ‘I’m not going to ask you again.’ I don’t want to say it. Sarah. ‘He didn’t feel a thing. ‘We just have to do it. He supports his lifeless head and undoes the buckle with shaking hands.’ Adam’s crouching down by the wiry man’s side.’ I croak. There’s no time to tell them anything.’ says Saul. Saul. It comes away but the man’s head thumps down onto the surface of the road. Oh. ‘Get on.’ He points his gun directly at me.
‘we’ve got some catching-up to do. He pulls up. Who is the man I’m holding on to for dear life? This coldblooded murderer? And what does he want with us?
. Let’s go. ‘Come on. I have to. Throttle’s on the right handlebar. Clutch is on the left. Kick it into first gear with your left foot. twist it to go faster.’ Saul shouts.‘Put your hands on my waist. I watch over Saul’s shoulder as he starts to weave down the road. the vibration is overwhelming. too. I dig my fingertips into Saul’s body as the world around us becomes a blur. It’s like the thing’s alive – the noise. Adam clambers onto his bike. Adam’s bike jerks forward and he nearly topples off.’ Saul says. the smell. I grip Saul tighter. watching as Adam’s hands fumble at the controls. Then Saul starts his engine up and I get the fright of my life. Touching him makes me feel sick. ‘Kick it with your left foot and twist the throttle. Brake lever’s there. then tries again. What choice do I have? I reach forward and grip the leather of his coat. Suddenly we’re lurching forward and my bum’s sliding back.’ Saul repeats.’ He sits. This time it’s smoother. You’ll get it.
but it don’t change up. I got nothing. If I come off I’ll be raspberry jam on the road.Chapter 10: Adam I’ve never ridden anything bigger than a scooter before and
this is a massive. only this is more frightening than any theme park. the roar dampens down.
. Whatever weird power she might have. I’m so scared I can hardly breathe. she’s still just a little girl. Concentrate. Is Mia okay? She was kicking and struggling before – I hope to God she’s staying still. Sarah’s little girl and the one who calls me Daddy. left for clutch. I try to change gear. Still and safe. like a kid on a fairground ride. but in my mind I keep seeing that guy lying in the pool of blood. I have to get to her. the engine’s roar goes up and up. but I can’t see the other bike ahead yet. The engine jerks and kicks.
I run through the controls in my head – right for brake and throttle.
I can do this. super-charged machine.
I can hear Saul behind me now.
Don’t think about it. The bike’s screaming now. like a wasp singing scales. I do my best to steer a good course. and it’s rattling my brain against the inside of my skull. but I don’t get it. I can do it. I’m riding this thing in a hoody and jeans. I have another go and the clutch bites this time. Saul and his mate look like they belong on these things with their leathers and their gloves and their Nazi-style helmets. The clutch has got me foxed: as I increase the throttle. There are pot-holes and cracks all over the shop.
Saul’s bike draws level. And then he turned his gun on Daniel … But Dan’s number is sometime in 2066. The noise from Saul’s bike is getting louder. Shit! I lean the other way and it rights itself. she’s gritting her teeth so hard her jawbone’s almost jutting
. You lose the detail. if it don’t change. And now I’m back to thinking about him firing his revolver into the guy on the ground. I seen fights.
It goes round and round in my head. Bang. It was like he was putting down an animal. If I wasn’t so shit-scared for Mia and Sarah. Saul is only a few metres behind. I seen people pulling knives on each other. too. Her face is white as a sheet. bang. the smell of oil in your nostrils. the edges are blurred. Just like Mia’s. I twist round to see how close he is and the bike tips under me. Sarah’s leaning forward. especially during the Chaos when it felt like all the normal rules had gone and people were just looking out for themselves. He should be okay. There’s the wind on your face. Just like that. I seen things before. but your senses sharpen up. I might even enjoy it. veering across the road. if. After two years of walking. If. bang. the pulsing of the engine in your hands and legs. holding him round the waist. I wrestle with it ’til I can feel the balance again. Just like Mia’s. The world looks different from the saddle of a bike. threatening to tip over the other way.
Just like Mia’s. travelling at this speed is a buzz.I twist the throttle again and the bike surges forward. the way it shimmers in and out of focus. One more twist on the throttle and at last I get a glimpse of the back of a bike ahead. But I never seen something that cold-blooded. bad things. I’m catching them. if … Now I’m thinking about Saul’s number. Yes.
There’s a crack in the tarmac across my side of the road and my front wheel hits it square on. then skews round. I don’t know how much more of this she can take. Saul lifts one hand off the handlebars and gives me a mock salute.
Just like Mia’s. The handlebars are wrenched sideways out of my hands and suddenly I’m flying. Our eyes meet and I get a flash of his shimmering number. but it’s too late.
I tear my eyes away. my feet flung up above my head – and the last thing I hear is the sound of Sarah screaming.through her skin.
’ he shouts. can you hear me?’ His eyes are closed. There are bits of bike raining down around him. hands and feet hitting the ground a split second later. but I’m on the ground and cradling Adam’s face before Saul’s even got the bike on its stand.’ Saul says. ‘There’s a pulse. He was an accident waiting to happen. He lands six or seven metres away from his bike. His body is powerless against the laws of physics. And then nothing. He reaches into the inside of his jacket and brings out a phone. He’s out cold. north of the
. ‘Get off. ‘We’re on the A46. momentum. smack down on his back. resistance. I haven’t seen one for two years.’ He sounds so relieved it’s almost odd. ‘And he’s breathing. ‘Adam! Adam. no noise.’ He moves his hand in front of Adam’s nose. I slam into Saul’s back as he brakes. apart from our engine and my screams. fighting to keep his balance. Velocity. ‘Man down.Chapter 11: Sarah From the start Adam never looked in control of the bike. ‘Let me.’ he says.
Over Saul’s shoulder I watched him struggling with it. And now it has. ‘Move!’ He pushes me roughly to one side and puts his fingers to Adam’s neck. No movement.
Since the Chaos. His brain function. as restless as he is awake. It’s the first time
. It’s as if I’m not there. when. almost to himself. except that I know he’s normally restless in his sleep.M4 junction. Twenty minutes. ‘Will he …?’ No one hears me. really bad. his feet. looking for the slightest movement. peering down the road. The ambulance – a four-wheel-drive – doesn’t announce itself with a siren. the smallest sign. But there’s nothing. I need an ambulance here a. Saul paces up and down. brain function. ‘The medics will be here in twenty minutes.a. he mutters and mumbles. They fire questions at Saul – what. I’m ignored. there’ve been no cars on the road.s. then ease him onto a stretcher. ‘Get back on the bike. but I can’t leave Adam’s side. his legs twitch. ‘They’ll assess his neck and back. this is bad. Oh. God. Each second is like an hour. back. Really. how? – and all the time they’re getting to work on Adam.p. He just looks like he’s asleep.’ Neck. I scan Adam’s face.’ he says. Four people jump out. They fix a neck brace onto him. he turns onto one side and then the other.’ Saul says curtly.’ He ends the call and turns his attention back to Adam. ‘Can I go with him in the ambulance? Please?’ Again. his fingers. I’m pushed outside their circle and all I can do is peer through the gaps. There’s no need. Launch a drone and get a fix on me. Now he’s perfectly still. ‘Is he …?’ I splutter.
but I doubt it. I understand I mean nothing to this man. just a track leading to a dull-looking hill. and a baby on the way. But it doesn’t. With my boyfriend in an ambulance. You might still be useful to us. I only brought you along so Adam would come. my daughter kidnapped.’ In that moment. nothing. Literally. We set off before the ambulance does. Three years ago there would have been nose-to-tail traffic.
. like all I can do is watch while the world spins out of control around me. in the middle of nowhere. armed with the same rifles as Saul and his men. ‘We’ll get there before they do. ‘You can get on the bike or I can leave you here. My legs ache and my chest hurts where the wing mirror of the other bike hit it. I’m expecting the track to go up. ‘Please. I get on the bike. Today. I can’t face it.he’s spoken to me since the accident. Doesn’t make any difference to me. helpless. without a second thought. He’d leave me at the side of the road. crossing a bridge over a motorway. He barely looks at me. there is a string of tents along the hard shoulder on one side and two people on horseback the other side. A bunker. There’s nothing there. stand either side.’ The bike. We pass signs for Chippenham. Corsham and Bath.’ I say. I feel numb. A pair of uniformed men. or round. and I wonder if we’re heading for one of them when Saul starts braking. And then I see it: a large metal door set into the hillside. I’m confused. The road runs between gently rolling fields. It carries straight on.
The armed men salute. then.’ Saul murmurs. I don’t move. before I can say anything. But there’s only one way to find out. just kills the engine and dismounts.’ he says eventually. I’ll never come out. shut in with no light. I don’t want to be buried in there.
‘Is Mia inside?’ I ask again.We come to a stop by the metal door.’ he says. ‘I just need to stretch my legs—’ ‘Stretch them inside. as if debating whether the information might be useful – to him. Sarah. ‘I’m losing patience. I look at the entrance in front of us – a square of light in the hillside. Is he telling me the truth? I have no way of knowing.’ he snaps. he grabs me round my waist with one arm and hauls me off the bike.
If I go in. My breath is tight in my throat. no fresh air. The artificial glare of strip-lights on the
. ‘Can you give me a minute?’ I ask. I stagger as my feet hit the ground. ‘Get off the bike. I’ve got goosebumps everywhere. and one of them slides back a bolt before pulling the door open. a bright. empty corridor about twenty metres long – and then I really start to panic. Saul pauses for a moment. The corridor is empty apart from a few wooden chairs lining the walls. ‘Is Mia here?’ I say to Saul’s back. He doesn’t bother answering me. I don’t want to go inside the hill. and my scalp’s tingling. I can’t do it. ‘She’s here. My joints are agony.
’ ‘You will.’ His piercing black eyes turn on me. I’m dismissed. It’s thirty metres deep. There’s a mocking glint in them. though – the control panel isn’t a set of buttons but a retro dial with a metal handle. Unimportant. I step into the lift.’ ‘I want to see Mia. Sarah.’ I say. He’s wearing a tweed jacket under his white coat. but there’s already a whirring and whining sound. then winds the handle to ‘DOWN’. and one way out. The lift thunks to a halt. The whole thing judders.ceiling hurts my eyes.’ Saul says to one as he passes. I follow Saul to the grid. None of the other white-coats looks at me. heading to the bunker entrance. easily big enough for twenty people. Just one way in. It’s an antique. He slides open the metal grid. The guard heaves the lift door shut. and behind that is something that looks like a lift door. Safest place in England.’ he replies. and my stomach flips as the lift starts to drop into the earth. ‘I’m going to wait for Adam. turning his back on me. Then the door concertinas open to reveal a squad of people in white coats. The white-coats barge past us at the double. and another uniformed guard. ‘Adam Dawson’s ETA five minutes. ‘And Adam. He’s the important one. At the end of the corridor is a metal grid.
What the hell is this place?
.’ he says to the guard. I hear the grid slide shut behind me. ‘Don’t worry. It’s huge. He presses a button on the wall. It’s as if I’ve become invisible. The man merely nods. you know. ‘This is Sarah. Saul’s standing on the other side of the grid. and I spin round.
tweed jacket under a white coat. whoever he is. Am I meant to know these people? I look from one to the other.
‘We’ve got eye movement … He’s coming round …’ Who are they talking about? ‘Adam. but I’ve no idea who they are or who I am or where I am. All I know is I’m alive and breathing. I open my eyes a little but the light’s so bright I shut them again quickly. Face like it’s been squashed in a lift door. ‘Did you see that? He’s back. Fifty-something. His hair’s too brown. blink now. can you hear me?’ Now they’re shouting at someone called Adam. Adam. but I blink anyway. I’m just not sure I’m called Adam. and a circle of faces begins to drift into focus. Adam! Adam!’ I open my eyes again. They’re faces with eyes and noses and mouths and numbers. not a hint of grey. A ripple of excitement runs round the circle of faces. I feel sorry for the poor sod. with people yelling at him like that.Chapter 12: Adam I can hear voices. if you can understand me.’ I understand him. parted on one side and hanging in two curtains either side of his puffy cheeks. ‘Adam. 8112034.
One of them’s talking to me now.
‘You don’t know? Are you sure? What’s my number. I don’t even know him. ‘We’ll try again tomorrow.’ he says. My mind’s racing to remember. But it’s not someone in this room. Leave it. Then I hear another voice.‘Good.
. Bloody hell. ‘Now can you squeeze my hand?’ I peer down my body. He should sleep. I move my eyes. Arms. but I can’t get there. Tweed Jacket straightens up.’ he says. He’s got cropped grey hair and a scar above his left eye. ‘What’s my number. ‘Remarkable.’ It’s another voice speaking. I don’t feel relaxed now. but it’s not the same. ‘Of course. Not ever. I start to relax. Not anyone. His number’s shimmering as I try to get a fix on it.’ He works his way round my body. There’s a man standing on the other side of me. Alarm bells are going off in my head.’ he says. Newsome. I’ve seen him before. The guy’s holding my left hand now. past the big collar thing round my neck. but I’m pleased he’s pleased.
‘I dunno. just lobs it in like any of his other questions. I don’t know him. trying to place him. Adam?’ ‘That’s enough. Tweed Jacket looms over me. ‘Can you feel that? Can you squeeze back?’ I squeeze back. The voice is in my head. ‘Excellent. Adam?’ He asks it all casual.’ I say. do I? Or is he my dad or something? His chubby fingers squeeze mine.’ The crowd thins out. Let’s get him downstairs. deep and sharp.
You mustn’t tell. Adam. legs and feet – all in working order. hands.
I close my eyes again.
You mustn’t tell.
She called me Adam. what I know. but I’m not sleepy. The faces. Adam who?
. I’m going over and over what I’ve just seen. so it must be true. the woman in my head. too. the numbers … and that voice. I’m Adam.
The guard takes my arm. ‘We’re trying to … settle her in. He glances at me. Am I a prisoner? I look at him properly for the first time. The walls are lined with gurgling pipes and punctuated by metal doors with shuttered grilles at eye level. keyholes and numbers. Everything’s painted battleship grey. deeper and deeper into the tunnel. I can hear a low mechanical throbbing in the background. The squaddie leads the way. The guard winds
the handle to ‘OPEN’ and then drags the door back to reveal another corridor. but I don’t really take it in.Chapter 13: Sarah The lift thunks down. not much older than me. We’re at the bottom.’ he says to me. but his hold is firm.’ Mia. He mutters something about food and a bed. I try to note where we’re going. She’s here. ‘I’m to take you to see your daughter. Our footsteps echo dully on the concrete floor. I just want to see Mia. It’s like a prison. He’s got the beginnings of a moustache. but it’s also a step closer to Mia and that’s what matters. I try to shrug him off. nervously.
. and his military beret doesn’t seem to sit at the regulation angle. This one’s dimly lit and concrete and so long I can’t see where it ends. Every step feels like a step away from life and light and everything else I’ve ever known. He’s young. And now I don’t care about Saul and the soldiers and how weird this place is. Relief floods through me.
unconvincingly. Then I hear a sound that makes me freeze. She’s alive. clinging to me like a little monkey.but we turn so many corners.’ I say.’ she says. I kiss her hair. then she throws herself at me. I think. There are towels on the bed and clothes in two sizes. There’s a bathroom connected to it – for a moment. plain room. Mia stops mid-scream and opens her eyes. A child crying. ‘She was starting to settle.’ she repeats. Mia increases the volume of her yells. Mia. We might be prisoners. trying to control my sudden panic. It’s a cell. Her eyes are puffy from crying. The noise is faint but unmistakeable. At the sound of her voice. sobbing. hug her. a single bed in the corner. Mia’s voice blasts out into the corridor. I hug her closer and look around the room. The woman stands up. He doesn’t stop me. Give her hell.
The woman looks offended as she sweeps from the room. but Mia’s here. her breath is hot in my face.
That’s my girl. ‘Locked in. I hear a key turn in the lock. her face screwed up and beetroot red. She lifts her head up from my shoulder. and it swings open. pass so many doors and everything looks the same battleship grey. The guard taps on it. ‘We’re locked in. I get a glimpse of a square. We stop next to a door with the number 1214. But the walls are bare and there’s no window. A woman is sitting on the bed and next to her is Mia. Mia. slamming the door behind her. Mia. ‘Mia!’ I shout. I soon give up. I think of running
. ‘Mia!’ I push past the guard and rush into the room. her arms and legs flailing.
water. I undress myself. like we’re in a hospital. then Mia. Holding her hand. I’ve got to get us out. warm rain. One way in. I tip shampoo into the palm of my hand and rub it into our scalps. When I hold up the others. The water draining away around our feet is grey. There are underclothes and a T-shirt.
I don’t care what that man said. ‘Mia. thirty metres down?
Safest place in England. having a hot shower for the first time in two years. I turn on the shower. We can’t stay here. The smaller clothes on the bed are too big but she snuggles into them anyway. then hot water squirts out of the shower head. ignoring her protests. stare at the lock in the metal door and at the blank. it’s obvious they weren’t expecting me to be pregnant. Mia shakes her head. Bits of twig and leaf stick in the plughole. Where is the air coming from? How can we breathe in here. We step out of the shower and I wrap a towel round me while I get Mia dry and dressed. the steam and the water all smell clinical. I step into the shower. and one way out. Soon she’s all pink and clean and warm. sweatshirt and jogging bottoms. ‘Let’s have a wash. The bottoms are stretchy but they’re still pretty tight over my stomach. You’ll like it. clings to me harder. The bathroom’s functional but clean.’ I say. But they’re doing their job. pulling her in gently after me. windowless walls.
. I take in the chemical smell of the shower lingering in the room. the soap.’ I’m not taking no for an answer. The pipes creak and groan. it’s like rain – nice. The shampoo.
That’s who she was. We’d walk on the sand. We lived by the seaside. There were icecreams. They blur the thoughts in my head and before I know it. the guy with the scar and the shimmering number – and the mattress I’m lying on. walk for miles and miles. donkey rides. Jem Marsh. She was only little. I can see it all. pupil reaction to light. the people around me – the nurses. I don’t know how long. I’d chase the seagulls. was she tough. They soften the edges of the room. Somewhere between dreaming and waking I’ve remembered who that voice was.Chapter 14: Adam I go in and out of sleep for hours. My mum. but
there’s always some stranger there when I wake up. and there are always questions. I can see her now. ‘How are you?’ ‘Can you feel this?’ ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ And there are tests – temperature. blood pressure. but boy. No Dad. I’m asleep again. the guy with the tweed jacket. This time when I wake up I don’t want to go back to sleep. just Mum. And sometimes there are injections.
not full of sadness and horror like most of them. and I see her blue. She understood and she tried to help me. I get a a comforting feeling from it. Adam. I’m in a circle. I’ve only just remembered her and now she’s died again. ‘I’ll be the last smoker in England. bloody-minded and proud of it. a circle of friends. This girl. my chin’s resting on the top of her head. Nan.And I’m her son. too. She’s got her back to me and I’ve got my arms round her waist. in the middle of the woods. I feel a stab of grief just under my ribs as I realise she’s dead. Those words I heard. when she was growing up. and I remember who gave it to me. Her number’s a beautiful thing. I could get lost in those eyes. The inside of my nose tingles as I inhale the smoke from her cigarette. I can see her. I kiss her hair and she twists her face up towards mine. and I’ve got my arms round a girl. blue eyes. She wrote them in a letter I only got after she died. Perched at the kitchen table in her grotty house in West London. My God.’ she’d say. My girl.’ she said once. She must be my girl if I’m holding her like that. And that’s where the numbers came from. She saw them too. I remember every word on that paper. ridiculous purple. even after she died. She scared the shit out of me at first – I thought she was my worst nightmare. about not telling. like it’s washed through with love. My mum’s dead. I’m Adam. she never said them to me. It’s like losing her for the first time. Her hair a brilliant. What’s her name? Is she still mine? Where is she?
. ‘My crowning glory. The smoke takes me somewhere else … I’m sitting by a bonfire. But I loved her.
Two people in white coats. ‘Have you got him?’ ‘Yes. I want to stay awake. to hold on to my memories … Mum. Quick. the other to stick in the needle.’ I don’t want it. though.’ They’re back again. but I’m outnumbered. my girl … Where am I? What is happening to me?
No! Not now.
I try to fight them off. There’s two of them for a reason.‘Time for another shot. Not yet. one to hold you down.
She’ll smile at me and hold her arms up for a cuddle. I don’t know where we are or whether it’s night or day. she’ll be here. closing my eyes. ‘What? What is it?’ ‘Mummy shouting. She’s not there. I scream her name. until my throat is hoarse. and there’s no breeze.’ ‘Was I? Did I wake you up?’ This place is pitch black. The air is perfectly still. over and over.Chapter 15: Sarah I can’t see her.
‘Mummy! Mum-meee!’ Mia’s shaking my shoulder. and I leave the path and walk through and round and over the graves until the pain stops me again and I have to stand. I can’t smell the musty closeness of our tent.
I’ve lost Mia in this cold and lonely place. But Mia is here. trying to breathe. The gravel crunches under my feet. terribly
. I open my eyes. ‘Mia! Mia!’ How could I let her out of my sight? I only looked away for a second and she was gone. My voice is swallowed by the fog. When I open my eyes again. absorbed by the trees and the stones. She’s gone. I’ve lost her. And right now that seems terribly. gripping onto a stone.
I wish I could sleep. There’s a strip of light at the top and bottom of a door. ‘No stars.’ she says again. I put my arms round her and she snuggles in close. They haven’t gone away. I hope she’s somewhere different. It doesn’t feel right without Adam. but they’re still out there. somewhere better than this place. Saul said they were bringing him here.
.’ I say. They’re waiting for us. a cell. although I know I won’t be sleeping any time soon.important. feeling her little hands digging into my shoulder feels like the answer to a prayer. He was flying through the air.’ I say.’ I start again. And then I get it. But Adam … Where’s Adam? There was a crash. My eyes start to make some sense of the darkness. ‘Oh. ‘Shall we sing “Twinkle”?’ I start singing. and this time Mia joins in. too. and she points to the ceiling. Mia. They can hear us when we sing. She’s asleep. but suddenly this cell seems like a lonely place. ‘Let’s go back to sleep. Mia. ‘We can’t see the stars here. and a bright rectangle where a shutter’s open a crack. I can’t remember the dream any more. Halfway through. We sing together until her voice trails off and her breathing becomes regular and heavy. but did he arrive? Is he okay? Is he still alive? I’ve got Mia snuggled close. but hearing her voice. ‘You don’t want “Twinkle”?’ ‘No stars. Mia and me. she reaches up and puts her hand on my mouth. how strange it must be for Mia to sleep indoors. And now I remember. It stops me in my tracks. But Mia doesn’t join in.’ she says. We’re in a room.
There’s a door and a man outside and I’m
trapped. and there were two voices. ‘Who are you?’ I whisper. once. low. at us? Then footsteps start up again. a long way away. I’m trying to think what I could use as a weapon if they come in. Then footsteps. screaming in the night. I’m scared of getting an answer. I hold my breath. Is someone still there? Mia’s arm is slung across my body. but I can’t make sense of their conversation. but getting louder until they’re outside my door. Two deep voices laughing in chorus. getting fainter until they’re finally gone. Waiting for moments like this. There’s nothing. My heart skips a beat.
My dad’s dead but the panic’s still there.but I can’t. They stop. only a few centimetres away from mine. male. I’m back in the house where I grew up. I can make out the odd word. though. Are they laughing at me. A man’s voice. waiting to get me. It ends with a joke. and moves away. I lift it up carefully and lay it on top of her.
. I look through the crack in the shutter. There’s an eye looking in. scared of not getting one. But this time it’s only one set of steps. My stomach turns over. The eye blinks. then I ease out from under the covers and tiptoe across the room. twice. There are voices. quiet at first. I can hear someone shouting.
sitting silently. doing more checks. the guy with the scar and the shimmering number. And next to him.’ Before I know what’s happening. He’s asking the questions now. My left wrist is held down and strapped too. ‘So now it’s time for some more sophisticated tests.’ ‘No. an assistant has put a leather strap through the arm of my chair and buckled it round my right wrist. but I’m weak and there are two of them now. considering what you went through yesterday. Another assistant wheels forward a trolley with monitors and a bunch of wires like spaghetti on it. ‘What the—?’ ‘Just a precaution. There’s something about that number … but I can’t get it. ‘No—’
. Not right now. It’s sickening and mesmerising at the same time.’ I try to fight back. is Grey-hair. no. Adam.’ It’s the guy with the squished face again.Chapter 16: Adam ‘You’re doing very well. ‘Excellent. Newsome.’ ‘We can’t have movement or the tests won’t work. I don’t want this. Every time I look at him. As he looms nearer I realise he’s gonna attach most of these wires to my head. the violence of his number hits me.’ Newsome says. Your cognitive functions are
’ Newsome says. so they can monitor my heart through the tests. He keeps reaching up. They wire up my chest. But he started this with the wriststraps. too. I haven’t asked you a question. What’s that all about? Looks like something out of a spy film.’ ‘I haven’t started yet. Just sit back. ‘I’m going to ask you some questions. Stop it. And my fingertips.’ He’s getting tetchy.’ I can’t do anything but sit there. But his eyes … those dark eyes … and that number… . They don’t need to shave my head: most of my hair was burnt off when I fell in the fire the night Junior died and the rest is so short they’ve got no trouble attaching the electrodes.‘It’s all part of the assessment of your condition. ‘and I want you to fire the answers back at me. First thing that comes into your head. It’s got to be a wig. I can’t tear my own eyes away. I’m not going to make it easy for him. Nothing more. about a metre away. brown hair that looks twenty years younger than him.’ ‘Okay. Newsome’s set up two other chairs facing me. Try to relax. Stop!’ This feels wrong. Isn’t that what they do to see if you’re lying? ‘No way. He still hasn’t said a word.
. tucking his hair behind his ear – the thick. but my jaw’s clenched and my arms and legs are tense and stiff as they tape me up.’ Newsome says smoothly. ‘Essential medical treatment. Now he sits in one and Grey-hair sits in the other. ‘Undo the straps. He turns to the bank of monitors next to him and fiddles with a couple of controls. Really wrong.’ I feel my temper flare. It’s a wig.’ ‘What?’ ‘That’s what’s in my head right now.
Newsome’s eyes narrow. ‘You heard him. ‘How old are you?’ ‘Eighteen. ‘What’s your name?’ Start with the easy ones. but I’m not sure. What do
. then turns back to me. Don’t ever tell. too? I can’t remember. Let’s try telling the truth. Adam. ‘I was wondering … who cut your hair.’ My mum was a Marsh. and some colour creeps into his face.’ ‘Adam who?’ ‘Adam … Marsh. I think I see the corner of Grey-hair’s mouth twitch.’ One of the assistants stifles a laugh.’ without looking up.’ He snaps a finger in front of my face. ‘Where were you born?’ ‘Dunno. He’s not looking at the monitors any more. He’s focusing in on me.
‘Nothing.’ The assistant nearest the monitor says. just a little bit.‘What are you thinking?’ he says.’ ‘What’s your date of birth?’ ‘Twenty-second of August 2010. He turns away and makes out he’s checking the monitors. ‘Adam. Am I. and he leaps in. ‘Lie. some things aren’t.’ Some things are there in my head.’ ‘What do you see when you look in people’s eyes?’
Don’t tell. ‘What’s in there right now? Right now. I hesitate.
‘All right.’ ‘I’m fine.’ ‘Do you see a number?’
Don’t tell.you see in people’s eyes. Take five.
. Newsome. and he’s leaning in even closer now.
‘No.’ ‘You see something else. ‘Go and cool down.’ ‘Lie. He gets up from his chair and puts a hand on Newsome’s arm. you little bastard? What is it? What?’ He’s losing it now. ‘What is it. Sweet FA.’ ‘Is that a question?’ He’s getting really narky now. the coloured bit.’ ‘Do you see a number. closing the door behind them. He presses his lips together in disapproval and stalks out of the room gesturing to his assistants to follow. Adam?’ We’re face to face.’ ‘What?’ Newsome says. ‘It’s an order.’ He shrugs the hand off.’ ‘The black bit. Grey-hair steps in. the white bit.’ ‘What do you see. ‘Nothing. They’re squaring up to each other and there’s a moment’s silence. sir. questions and answers firing back and forth. ‘I know you see something else. So now I’m alone with Grey-hair. Adam?’ ‘No.’ Grey-hair barks. then Newsome backs down. emphasising every word.’ he says.
Now. ‘What?’ ‘It’s okay to tell. ‘I can help you. Or is. To keep secrets. don’t you? She’s here. My mum and my nan are both dead. if you cooperate. ‘I know what it’s like. folds his arms and smiles. she does my friend. they eat away at you. ‘It’s okay. Yes.’ he says. But some secrets are like cancer.He shuffles his chair forward a little and puts his face close to mine. Adam. 2572075.
Blonde hair and blue eyes.’ I don’t know what to say. There’s no shame in telling that sort of secret.’ Have I told anyone? Are the numbers secret? I can’t remember. If I start a discussion then I’m giving away that there’s something to discuss. I can get you back with her. It’s up to you. Grey-hair frowns for a moment. You want to see Sarah again. shall I call Newsome back in?’
. And if you want to see those blue eyes again you’d better start cooperating. Adam. ‘What it’s like to be different. then he sits back in his chair. There are big gaps between my childhood – my mum and my nan – and waking up in this place. ‘Blue eyes? Yes. but what about the girl? The girl I had my arm round. by the fire? I don’t know who she was.’
Sarah. Is that Sarah? ‘Does she have really blue eyes?’ The question blurts out of my mouth before my brain has a chance to stop it.’ he says.
then closes it. voices in the corridor last night. She opens her eyes and looks around her. ‘I don’t know. How many are there here? Who are they? What was that screaming I heard last night?
. ‘Will we?’ ‘I can’t answer that.’ Then to the squaddie. and then back to Mia. for your own security. he means. It’s the same squaddie who escorted me from the lift to the cell. There’s tea. I go over to the bed. ‘He’s busy at the moment. He glances over his shoulder at the open door. Maybe they were changing shifts. ‘There’s a guard out there. He doesn’t look at me. but I know we ought to eat.’ Prisoners.’ I say. peel back the sheet and help her up. I just … look after people.’ he says.’ Mia’s waking up. ‘Good morning. milk and toast on the trolley. sweetheart. How about some milk?’ ‘Where Daddy?’ ‘We’ll see him later. I’m not hungry.’ I say brightly. like you. ‘I heard … things. ‘Do you want something to eat?’ ‘Where Daddy?’ I look at the squaddie. She sees the squaddie and ducks down under the covers. He won’t look me in the eye.Chapter 17: Sarah I’m still awake when the cell door opens and breakfast is
wheeled in on a trolley.
I’ve met her type before. ignoring her hand. don’t you? What sort of place is this?’ He doesn’t answer. She smiles and smoothes her skirt.’ she says.’ And close your eyes to everything else?Is that true? He must know more. but … I’ll see what I can do. shall we?’
. social worker type.‘But you know what’s going on here. holding her hand out towards me. Someone like her took Mia away from me once. but we’re going to have a chat this morning. ‘Where are we?’ I press him. Let’s have our chat and then we’ll see. He’s really uncomfortable now.’ I say.’ He almost smiles. and metalrimmed glasses. We got off to a bad start yesterday. and Mia instantly turns her face away from the woman that comes in – she’s the one who was trying to comfort her yesterday when I arrived. ‘Hello again. ‘I don’t think that’s possible. back on more comfortable territory. ‘Not until I’ve seen Adam. a cardi. The squaddie leaves. professional busy-body.’ ‘Maybe some smaller clothes for Mia … and some bigger ones for me. She’s wearing a sensible skirt.’ She sounds very sure of herself. ‘I just bring the meals and work the lift.’ We’re on our second piece of toast when there’s another knock on the door. almost squirming. Someone just like her. ‘We don’t often have children here. ‘I’m Marion. ‘Is there anything else you need? Mr … Saul said I had to ask.
the sort of tat that everyone used to have. and along to the interview room. We’ve got a chance to get out of this cell now. so I gather up Mia.It’s not possible. a baby that opens its eyes when you sit it up and closes them when you lie it down. She picks up a doll. She looks at them and puts them to one side. sweetheart. and they’re running some tests. a coffee table. I don’t want that bitch to see. ‘He’s fine. making a show of attending to Mia.’ I say. do you want to talk here or shall we go to the interview room?’ He’s okay.’ she says firmly. Plastic cars. Why? Because he never got here? Because he’s dead? Or still unconscious? What isn’t she telling me? ‘I’m not going anywhere until I know how he is. while taking some deep breaths to try and get my feelings under control. It’s not what I was expecting. a cash register – commonplace things before the Chaos. have a look at the place. ‘I’ve been told. Things that mean nothing to Mia now. a tray with tea and biscuits.’ she says. Thank God. Now.’ Marion ushers us into the corridor. There are leather sofas.’ ‘Fine? What does that mean? Have you seen him? ‘No. I’ve been told that he’s awake and alert. but they look like they’ve come from another age. ‘Let’s go. ‘You’ll be able to see him later. try and draw myself up a bit taller. a toy phone. My legs are trembling a bit. and some toys for Mia. They’re ordinary enough. ‘Come on. but—’ ‘So how do you know he’s okay?’ ‘Sarah. so I turn away from her and crouch down.
.’ I fold my arms across my chest.
it’s an obvious lie if you stop to think about it – Mia’s skin’s darker after two years in the open and her hair is curly. There’s a file on the coffee table.’ She must have sussed us. ‘I don’t know. ‘We don’t play games. Adam’s Mia’s dad. Although. and opens it. Officially. ‘That’s going to be difficult for you. which is what she is. ‘S’pose. ‘What about her talents? She’s precocious in her speech for two. puts the file on her knee.’ ‘We’ll be all right. you and Adam have been together for quite some time. but it’s blonde and she’s got blue eyes. Marion sits on one of the sofas. ‘I don’t look for that. It was just a spur of the moment thing.’ I say. What’s in the file? Is it about me? Or Adam? I sit on the opposite sofa and cross my arms again. but it was easier than telling the truth.’ ‘Who do you think she takes after? You or her dad?’ This is dangerous territory.’ ‘Don’t you and Adam play that game? Whose nose? Whose ears?’ ‘No. She’s just her.’ I say. surely.’ I block. ‘Mia’s very good. Halligan through and through. but I don’t want sympathy from her. She’s her own person.’ ‘And you’ve got one child and one on the way?’ She tries to look sympathetic. ‘So.’ It’s not a question. That’s what I told the nosy social worker who found me living in the squat in London.She’s hooked. almost afro. all the Halligan features. but she doesn’t follow it up. And it says in my notes that you’re an artist – is that
. somewhere I don’t want to go.
‘But it’s fascinating. and she moves it out of my view. but I don’t see it any more. ‘Where did that image come from.’ I say. Sarah. You were able to express it.’ ‘And you saw Adam and Mia. I don’t want anyone looking inside my head. ‘You painted a mural. I try to look at it. leaning forward. or even a lump of charcoal for two years. Yes. you didn’t just dream it up. She’s pushing me and I want to push back. and the city in ruins and houses in flames?’ ‘Yes. All of that. My dreams. She’s sitting on the edge of her chair. over and over. That’s where I got the picture. or brush.’ Something else I’m uncomfortable talking about.
. It must have come from somewhere. didn’t you? That’s pretty powerful stuff.something Mia’s good at too?’ An artist. my nightmares – they’re best forgotten. ‘You had a dream?’ ‘Yes. defiant. It’s gone. ‘That just shows what you know. come on.’ ‘Oh. The same one. You saw the future. a vision of the Chaos. I haven’t picked up a pencil. I’d pretty much forgotten that side of me. Every night. ‘I did dream it up. Sarah? How did you know what was going to happen?’ ‘That was two years ago.’ She’s got under my skin now.’ I’m looking her in the eyes now. What’s the point of talking about it?’ She puts the file down on the desk in front of her. Where did that vision come from?’ ‘Nowhere.
Sarah. I scream her name …
‘You don’t dream anything at all?’ ‘That’s right. She’s just a baby.’ ‘And Mia. She’s a toddler. shall we? Perhaps she’ll draw for us. ‘Nothing.’ ‘Let’s try her with these.’ Marion reaches into a cupboard and pulls out a wedge of paper and some coloured wax crayons. She’s my daughter. that’s all. She can talk. but it’s only her mouth that’s moving. Her eyes are cold and searching. death dates like her dad.It’s past.’
I’ve lost Mia in this cold and lonely place. Sarah?’ ‘Nothing. Let’s see. ‘I’m not touching her. She brings the doll with her.’ she says. ‘Leave her alone. This is getting out of order.’ ‘What do you dream now. ‘Can you choose a pretty colour and draw me a picture?’
. ‘Mia. ‘More than a baby. how does she fit into this?’ ‘She doesn’t.’ She gets up and walks round the coffee table. My dreams have stopped. but Mia’s nothing to do with anyone else. ‘What does she see. do you think? Does she see numbers.’ ‘You know what I mean.’ Marion smiles. or visions like you?’ I scoop Mia up from the floor onto my lap.’ I say.’ I want this to stop now. I can cope with questions about me.
I lower myself onto the floor next to her. She still hasn’t forgiven Marion for yesterday.’ Marion says. Marion puts the crayons and paper on the floor. hasn’t she?’ She’s making notes in her file. ‘From within. then looking up and studying Mia again. Marion looks over Mia’s shoulder intently. That crayon goes back and out comes a red one. Mia peeks sideways at them for a moment. ‘That’s remarkable. She’s got it. She’s turned the crayon in her fingers so that instead of gripping it in her fist.’ I say. She draws a similar shape next to the first one. but it’s only the first few movements that are uncontrolled.’ ‘She’s never seen me draw. pulls a face and buries her head in my shoulder.Mia looks at her. Without anyone showing her. and then I realise it’s true. fascinated. I say scribbling. I didn’t want this. I can’t tell what she’s drawing. Mia’s making deliberate marks. but it’s definitely something – a shape like a potato with a couple of lines coming out of it. desperate not to miss anything. leans forward so her face is only a few centimetres from the paper. and for the childhood that Mia hasn’t had. she’s holding it between her thumb and index finger. for a part of me that’s been lost. and starts scribbling. She must have got it from you. puts the blue one back and picks out a pink one. ‘for a two-year-old. Then she does something else quite deliberate. she grabs a blue crayon. Undaunted.
. shapes on the paper. She looks at the crayons in the plastic envelope. Then she slithers down from my lap and kneels by the crayons. I can’t help being fascinated. ‘It must be innate. For a moment I feel sad.’ Marion says. Within a minute or so. Then she traces round the outside of the blue. but I can’t help but watch.
all bathed in pink. Marty with tears running down his face. In my head I’ve got images of Luke clutching his face. a lump rises in my throat. ‘What are you drawing?’ She’s hunched over the paper. and she turns and smiles at me. A shiver runs down my spine. ‘What about Marty and Luke?’ As I say their names.’ I say.’ ‘I know. I know. 2022054. the tip of her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth.’ I say. The first time I met her Val described my aura.’ she says. What is it?’ She sits back up on her heels and points to her picture. one green and yellow.
. he’d see her number. She’s got Val’s gift. but also dark blue. one orange. I’m the blue and pink potato. ‘Drawin’.’ she says. And she’s not just got Val’s number. proud of what she’s done. Adam’s the red one. of course. but I don’t need to see it. If Adam was here. I smile back at her. ‘Me drawin’. ‘It’s beautiful.
I look at my daughter. She sees us as colours. ‘Mummy and Daddy. Just like Adam’s nan.‘That’s lovely. I can hear her voice now. Mia. the haze of colour I carried with me. harsh and gravelly: Lavender. Are they okay? Mia reaches for the crayons again and draws two more potatoes.
you’re doing this for Sarah.Don’t ask me what I see in Saul’s
eyes – I don’t know if I could find the words. what do you see when you look in my
eyes?’ I look at Newsome.’ I say. ‘Do you think you’re the only one who can see them?’
. echoing the voice in my head.
Don’t tell. ‘What’s my number?’ he repeats.
‘What does the number mean?’ ‘It’s the date you’re going to die.
‘I see a number.Chapter 18: Adam ‘For the last time. Adam. ‘It’s wrong. Never tell. Adam. Saul’s next to him.’ It’s true. but why does this feel so wrong? ‘What’s my number?’ I stop. the death in his eyes. his squashed face.
Don’t tell. ‘Adam.’ Saul joins in now. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the answer to his question.’ It’s the truth.’ Newsome starts again. Never tell. remember? It’s all right to tell.’ ‘But I’m asking you to. but I feel uneasy saying it. didn’t I? I don’t tell. What’s my number?’ ‘I just said.
‘I don’t tell people.
’ ‘You’re right. running a paper printout through his hands. There might be other people but I don’t know. was it?’ I don’t answer.’ ‘Say it.’ ‘Just say it. ‘What’s my number?’ I’m squirming now. measurements. Other people do see them.’ ‘8112034. Say it. He’s looking back at the screens. right in my face. my mind’s twisting and turning. will they? My body’s tense against the restraints. Other people tell. A fleck of his spit hits my cheek. Say it. ‘There. exhausted. I sink into the chair. ‘I don’t want to. They just won’t let it go. I’ve just told him when he’s going to die and there’s no
. That’s what we deal in here – facts. What’s my number? Say it. and it’s okay. I told Saul I’d cooperate for Sarah’s sake.’ I don’t know if this is just a line. ‘You told the truth. I know I don’t have any choice … but this feels wrong. evidence. ‘I don’t want to say it. I got nothing to say.’ I want him to back off. like he’s got the answer to everything.’ He’s too close to me. Wasn’t difficult. but he won’t.’ He sounds smug.’ ‘I can’t.‘No. There’s no harm in telling the truth. My head flops down onto my chest. Something to make it easier for me to tell him what he wants to know. ‘Say it.’ The fight goes out of me. I dunno.
Resources are scarce.’ ‘What’s that got to do with me?’ ‘We need people like you. shall we?’ ‘No. We need to know where we can help. put the country back on its feet. ‘You can’t be emotional about this. We need a generation of strong leaders. It’s about targeting them effectively. listening intently. where it’s not worth our while. ‘Governments have to make tough decisions.’ he says. this is important work. There are people starving everywhere.’ ‘If you’re not with us.’ ‘Adam. Adam.’ The room falls silent. emotional reaction. Adam. ‘Let’s have a few more questions.
. people who can establish order. Just start somewhere. ‘You can help us understand the future.’ Saul says. He looks to Saul. who’s sitting quietly. Do something.’ I say. We’re trying to save the British nation here.’ ‘But what if they’re going to die anyway? We can’t waste our resources. Adam.’ ‘Na-ah. We need intelligent early warning systems.’ Newsome says.’ ‘So you want me to tell you where not to bother? Screw that. get us back where we should be.’ ‘You don’t need me for that.reaction.’ Newsome pauses and moves back from me. ‘We need you to cooperate fully. Just walk outside this place and start looking. I’m done.’ ‘I’m not part of the government. He puts down the printout and tucks his hair behind his ears. you’re against us.’ ‘We’ve only just started. no human. ‘I’m done. People like you hold the key. Adam.
thrust my chin out. I want his bullying and his threats out in the open. I stare at the floor. I’m feeling like I could lose it now. believe me.’ I try to sit up. I don’t like this guy. ‘What do you mean?’ I know what he means but I want him to say it. and I do lose control. ‘8112034 doesn’t seem to mean anything to you. We need to understand how your gift works. ‘Who’ll miss you?’ I say. Sarah. support us. Adam. You could be a leader. Does she know I’m here? Would she miss me? I can’t answer Newsome.’ There’s a long silence. something noble. Or disappear. You’re unpredictable. You killed one of our best operatives two days ago. You and Sarah. but why tie me up? Why humiliate me?’ ‘You killed a boy two years ago. Or you can resist. I don’t want him to win. You could be a huge asset to us. I do lose my temper. if he pushes me any further.’ I twist my head away from him. How many times do I have to tell people? When will they believe me? ‘I never killed anyone. Gone. You’re not in control when you’re angry. What’s he saying isn’t right. My girl. ‘You’ve got a choice. be stubborn. pulling against the straps. ‘You lose your temper. What did you expect?’ That old charge again and a new accusation on top. be part of something great. be childish and be crushed. You know when now but what if you
. He shouldn’t be saying this stuff.’ ‘I want to understand. You can help us. But he’s right. too. We need you on side. ‘Who knows where you are now? Who’d miss you?’ The girl.‘It’s important.
He likes this.’ I look him right in the eyes. He stares at me.’ he says.’
. Well done. Did you get that? That piece of story-telling?’ he asks the white coats at the monitors. For a few seconds. He moves away from me. ‘Nice even line right the way through. sicker. I know there’s a stab of fear digging him in the guts. He’s excited. Me taunting Newsome. ‘A nice party piece. He just looks at me and I look at him. You’ve vomited up everything you’ve got inside.knew how?’ That’s got him. ‘Yes. switched on. And you … you’re going to suffocate. Saul licks his lips. trying to face me down. They’re burning into mine. but he flicks his tongue across his lips and I know his mouth is dry.’ he says. Me describing his death. You’re on the ground. The air’s poisoned and every breath makes you weaker. you’re right about that. ‘He’s telling the truth. but it sticks in your throat and you’re choking and fighting for breath. ‘But I feel them as well. but it’s too late. ‘Very nice. thrashing about in your own sick. ‘I see numbers.’ He looks nervously towards his boss. we got it. You’re breathing in and out as hard and as fast as you can.’ There’s not a sound in the room. It’s over. Then he blinks and his hand goes up to tuck his hair behind his ear. One of the white-coats is holding a printout in his hand. shaking his head. His eyes are bright. now you’re bringing up bile. ‘What are the readings saying?’ I turn my head. Newsome doesn’t move. more confused. but there’s no oxygen reaching your lungs.
’ I reach forward and pull out a yellow crayon. She’s still frantically scribbling notes in the file.
. ‘Try not to lead her. Draw you. I’m trying not to show anything but inside I’m totally freaking out.’ she says.’ She looks at the crayons and her hand hovers over the packet for ages. ‘There’s someone missing. Pick a really pretty colour. Then she looks back at me for help.’ I say. ‘Where are you in the picture?’ I look up at her. ‘Don’t stop.Chapter 19: Sarah ‘W here’s
Mia?’ Marion says. Draw Mia. She shakes her head. ‘Don’t you know what colour to pick?’ I say. he’d see it straight away. isn’t there? We’re not a family without you. This is something huge. Like your hair. ‘How about this? Yellow. I shoot her a few daggers. I’m helping. Mia pauses. ‘Just pick any one. I know she’s wary of Marion.’ I say. Marion clicks her tongue with disapproval. but she’s loving drawing. observing Mia like she was an animal in a zoo. Mia sees the things that Val saw – how mad is that? If Adam was here.’ I hand her the crayon and ruffle her golden curls. ‘I’m not leading. like the sunshine. something amazing.
I can’t do another night in this place.’ Before I know it. a brother or sister. ‘What else. She holds a black crayon out towards me. can’t we?’ ‘I’ll take a copy. There’ll be someone else for her to draw soon. Mia starts wailing and I don’t blame her – I can’t believe the cheek of the bossy cow. It’ll kill me. what does the future hold?’ I say it under my breath and it’s almost like a song. Marion’s snatched the paper out of my hand and has left the room with it. It’s so close that it turns into ‘Mary. Who takes a child’s drawing away like that? The key turning in the lock reminds me this is not an ‘interview room’. isn’t it? Do you want to do another one while we’re waiting?’ But Mia’s tired now. We can stick it up on the wall. She picks up the doll and curls up on the sofa. if you don’t mind. picks up the paper and gives it to me. how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row …’ Her breathing becomes deeper and noisier.’ she says. ‘That’s beautiful. in our room. ‘Mary.’ I say to Mia.Mia draws a yellow potato next to the first two. The butterflies in my stomach make me feel sick. Mia. Mia?’ Marion’s pushing her now. ‘That’s nice. ‘Mia. ‘She likes the picture too. and she closes her eyes and puts her thumb in her mouth. Mary. She’s not
. I’ve got to get me and Mia out. Mia puts her crayon down. I give her a squeeze and kiss her cheek. It’s another cell. ‘Mummy do it. trying to smooth over her rudeness. I stroke her hair. Mary’ without even trying. quite contrary.
experimenting with line and form. the profile of her face.
. Much more. almost painfully.’ I say. Creating an abstract. I’ve missed this. with one sketch. ‘Whassat. The place where I lose Mia. Instantly.
I’m still holding the crayon Mia gave me. And in the foreground. Mia sits up and looks at my picture. I let my hand do what it wants. Everything else falls away.asleep but she’s very close.
Mummy do it. My ‘abstract’ is a landscape – the light and dark of trees and the spaces between trees. Now I don’t know where to start. The place in my nightmare. shading. Mummy?’ Mia asks again. the soft halo of her hair. I start sketching her shape: the curve of her back. just patterns. on paper. I put the portrait to one side and start making random marks on a fresh sheet of paper. I’m caught up in it – looking and drawing. Without really thinking. I’m scared to be faced with such whiteness. Slowly. Part of me’s been dead for two years and now. There’s been no time for creativity in the last two years. God. It’s the place in my head. I take a fresh piece of paper from the pile on the coffee table. Trying not to engage my mind. Survival’s taken over. My daughter. but it’s more than that. A few lines is all it needs and she’s there. My first picture of her. ‘Nothing. it’s alive again. The shapes and lines aren’t random at all. I look at what I’ve drawn and my chest tightens. light and dark. dark slabs of stone. I look at the paper for a long time. ‘Whassat?’ she says.
we had a deal. ‘What. ‘Whoah.’ he says.’ Newsome looks at Saul. I topple sideways. I think we should have another couple of sessions straight away.’ ‘Are you sure.’ he says. but Saul’s getting to his feet.’ ‘Newsome. I’ll take you to her. So I wanna
see her. There’s a moment when he steadies me and I glance at his face. ‘Yes. I’m glad he’s caught me.Chapter 20: Adam ‘That’s it. now. so fierce that it makes me gasp and buckle over. ‘Yes. Saul?’ the doctor says. I can tell he wants him to say ‘no’. You said I could see Sarah. Adam.
. ‘There’s a lot he hasn’t told us. but there’s something unnerving about being this close to him. I’m on my feet but my legs don’t feel as if they belong to me. and our eyes meet and the pain of his death is even stronger.’ Saul catches me and puts a supporting arm round my shoulders. Can you walk?’ I brace my hands against the arms of the chair and push forward. What if I don’t recognise her? What if I make a prat of myself? What if she don’t want to see me? He smiles. Adam’s kept his side. I’m done. Get those straps off him. now?’ All of a sudden I ain’t sure. ‘I think that might help.
‘No problem. ‘Where the hell are we?’ I ask Saul. Saul wheels me out of the room and into a corridor. I look at it with horror. ‘I’ll fetch an orderly.’ he says.’ Newsome says. the floor’s concrete. ‘The safest place in England. You want to be one of us. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be one of them. They look uneasy. The only people about are soldiers. There are two squaddies outside our door. ‘you came off your bike at forty miles an hour yesterday. ‘I don’t think so.’ He puts pressure on my shoulder. I ain’t no cripple. sharply.’ ‘Adam. pretending to be busy with his charts and read-outs. Get in. all armed.’ he says. I can hear Newsome’s voice in my head now: You can
help us … or disappear. The doctor puts his hands up. I’d assumed I was in hospital.’ Saul says. but this ain’t like any hospital I’ve seen before.’ He turns away. and nods to one of the whitecoats. who scurries out of the room and comes back with a wheelchair. They make to follow us. almost forcing me to sit down. don’t you?’ I leave his question hanging. but he doesn’t explain.’ Saul cuts in. especially not
‘Safe for who?’ ‘Safe for me. ‘What’s your problem?’ Saul says. but they do as they’re told. but Saul waves them away. You’re lucky to be alive. for us. but I don’t want to rile him. The corridor walls are grey. I’ll push him. My legs give way and I lurch into the chair. ‘No.‘We’ll get a chair. all in uniform. Newsome looks at him like he’s lost his mind.
It’s like handing them a death sentence.’ Saul says. It’s your moral duty. For a moment. ‘I wouldn’t want to. You mean like I tried to warn people about the quake.’ I say. You can help a lot of people. something about it that’s wrong …
‘Newsome asked me for his number.’ ‘Exactly. the
extreme pain that comes with it.’ ‘I don’t blame you. walks round the side of it and
. ‘I don’t. He’s helping me. ‘That’s too heavy. Adam. Don’t you want to know?’ ‘No.’ My mind’s as bruised as my body.’ he says.’ he says. ‘That’s for other people.’ I say. I can’t argue with him – I ain’t got the strength.’ ‘The right reasons. But it’s okay to tell if they ask you and it’s okay to tell if you’re doing it for the right reasons.’ ‘Commendable.’ ‘I don’t think it’s moral to only help some of them. Saul. It’s too much to put on me. ‘You don’t want to hurt people. I understand that. And it feels like he’s on my side right now.’ ‘Death doesn’t frighten me. You can reduce the number of deaths if you help us decide who will benefit the most.’ He stops the chair.now. I’m vulnerable in this chair. That shimmering number. I wonder why … but there are too many other questions floating around in my head. the man they take orders from in here. ‘But you didn’t.’ ‘That’s why I try not to tell anyone. That don’t feel right to me. You should help people. Adam. that’s one thing we do know.’ ‘But there’s not enough help to go round. People are going to die anyway. Saul’s a powerful man.
be my right-hand man. And a guy lying in the road.’ His eyes are bright. I can help share the strain. My head’s spinning. God. the feel of my hand on her waist as we sit by the fire.’ He puts his hand on top of mine. But there’s something revolting about him. I understand. skewering me with its pain. listen to him.crouches down. Saul disappears
. I’ve got no choice but to look at him. facing me. Think about it. ‘Are you with me. Adam. almost like there’s a fire inside him. He’d be a powerful friend. He can tell I’m confused.’ The guard salutes and unlocks the door. Adam. some of us more than others. Where was that? Who was he? What’s the date now? ‘And you’ve been given a very heavy burden. His number dazzles me.’ He looks at the door in front of us. And now I’ve got another number in my head. too. I need time. I do. I’ve got her face. I do. And a terrible enemy. ‘You don’t have to answer now. I want you to work with me. ‘Do you want to see her now?’ This is it? She’s in there? Sarah. Why does his death hurt so much more than other people’s? 1622029. ‘Yeah. You can use it. ‘My theory is that we’re given what we can cope with. Adam?’ There’s something about him that makes me want to say ‘yes’. He pats my hand and stands up. We’ll talk again.’ I say. why can’t I remember?
No. The power to see death. Is he going to have another go? ‘We all carry burdens. You’re strong enough. My heart starts to thump. a pool of dark blood spreading out around him. something I can’t get hold of. Not yet.
‘Yeah. My confusion about Saul is pushed to the back of my mind – I’m trying to grasp memories of Sarah. But that’s all. 1222029.’ he says.
Why didn’t we go straight in? What’s he doing in there? Is Sarah really in there.
.inside. My nerves almost get the better of me. shutting the door behind him. But I want to see her – I want to see my girl. or is this some sort of set-up? I’m not ready.
I’m starting to hate that sound. I don’t want to think.’ ‘Here?’ I try to dodge past him to the door. What now? Probably Marion and more stupid questions. I loathe him. He’s closing the door behind him. She scrambles over the bed and hurls herself onto the floor. ‘Good afternoon to you too. ‘Adam’s here. I turn back to look at him. and then the key turns
in the lock. All I need to think about is how to get out of here. ‘Mia!’ She’s got her arms across her face.Chapter 21: Sarah There’s a sharp knock on the door. even more claustrophobic. It’s not Marion – it’s Saul. The room instantly feels closer. ‘Bad man …’ she whimpers. My stomach lurches. I stuff Mia’s drawing and my nightmare sketch under the mattress. I can’t think about it – what it means. I’ve never hated someone so much. He steps into my path and blocks me. What does he want? Mia’s reaction is even more violent. ‘Where’s Adam?’ I say. She cowers in the tiny space between the bed and the wall. He puts his hand up to my shoulder and my
.’ Saul sneers. I’ve brought him from the medical wing.
Just use your common sense. he may not remember much about you. though. trying to wriggle out of his grip. He’s had a bump on the head.flesh creeps where he makes contact. I could never have imagined this happening.
. ‘A word of warning.’ ‘What … what does that mean?’ ‘He’s got some gaps. I just stand there. ‘Are you talking about brain damage?’ He snorts. He smirks.’ ‘Warning? Are you going to threaten me. She’s wriggled out of her hiding place and now she streaks past me and flings herself onto Adam’s lap. I jerk my head away. Don’t expect too much. Then he shoves her away from him. He took quite a knock yesterday. The first thing I see is the front of a wheelchair.’ he says. rooted to the floor. And it’s like the ground’s dropping away. the child.’ He opens the door. your relationship. because—’ He raises his hand from my shoulder and places his index finger against my mouth. The look on his face tells me the awful truth: he doesn’t know who she is. holding her at arm’s length. hurting!’ She’s starting to cry. There’s some memory loss. Sarah.’ I’m scared now. The tears well up and spill down her face. You may notice a change in his personality. Mia doesn’t hesitate. it’s about Adam. ‘Dad-dee!’ she wails. He’s doing very well. ‘Dad-dee. Then Saul wheels him in. ‘Don’t be so dramatic. ‘Hey! Hey! What’s this?’ He grasps her shoulders. bile rising in my throat. but it is. ‘Shh. ‘It’s not about you.
I need to get Saul out of here. Did he hear what Adam said? Does he know what it means? The way Saul’s looking at Mia and Adam. Mia and Adam … Adam and Mia … Seeing numbers made Adam a target. no one knows about it but me and Adam. before Adam says anything else. Does Mia’s number-change make her a target. and his expression changes. and then … they switch to Mia. My head whips round to see Saul leaning against the door-frame. ‘Like I said.Then he looks at her. He’s frowning. He’s recognised where it came from. almost scowling. ‘Nan …?’ he whispers. it’s setting my teeth on edge. Oh God. There’s a new expression in them I don’t like.’ But his sharp black eyes are locked on to Adam. he’s seen the number. too? Except.’ he murmurs. really looks. There’s a sharp intake of breath from the door.
. ‘confused. Something even colder and more calculating than ever.
They’re blue like a summer sky and her number shimmers inside them. She’s only little. her past. sticky stranger. a girl. And I know who this girl is. It dances in my head and brings the smell of cigarette smoke. I know that she loves me. Just as blue and intense as the child’s. I peel her off me. 2572075. eyes so fierce that once they got you. Val. It floods me with warmth so every cell in my body glows. And now there are hands on my hands. She’s our daughter.Chapter 22: Adam There’s a child. 2022054. ‘Sarah. hold her away. but I don’t want her on me – this small. I feel like I’m under attack. I know her story. hands clawing at me. But the number’s different. the memory of another pair of eyes. you were caught until she let you go. She
throws herself at me. And then I look in her eyes. I know that I love her. face down on my legs.’ How could I have forgotten? I know her now. I don’t want to frighten her. I didn’t know there was a child. ‘Nan …?’ There’s an intake of breath behind me. our life together. She’s got a
. It’s my nan. noisy. and another pair of eyes. What is this? I don’t understand.
while Sarah holds my hand tightly. Her curly hair tickles my chin. Have a good … chat. I lift her up. it’s Daddy. ‘Mia. It’s just us. My girl. I look around. growing fainter. He’s gone. and I believe her. just at Sarah.’ She stops crying and tips her tear-stained face up towards mine.’ she says between hiccups. burrowing in. I don’t know what to say to her. ‘It’s all right.’
. Her blue eyes. ‘Hello. We’ll be together. She snuggles close to me. I can’t remember things. She’s so little. blue eyes. are hard. I put my arms round her. Like how I got here. ‘Of course. Whatever’s going on now. Take your time. I wouldn’t blame her if she wriggled off and hid from me.name now – Mia. I don’t look at him.’ says Saul eventually. Her number tells me that it will be all right in the end. I stroke Mia’s shoulders with my thumbs. how are you?’ she says after a long while. we’ll get through it. There are footsteps in the corridor. ‘Could you leave us?’ she says to Saul. There’s a long pause. ‘Yeah.’ I say. and watches us with her blue. I hear the door close. but she don’t. but it don’t matter. Tears of relief well up in my eyes. A key turns in the lock. Mia.’ she says. ‘Daddy. looking over my shoulder. We just sit and hug each other. so she’s sitting on my lap. ‘So. ‘Sore all over.’ I say. There’s an edge to her voice now. We’re in a bare cell. three of us shut in together.
‘He’s a killer. There were other people. Adam. Is that the killing Newsome accused me of? Why did Saul stay silent? To save his own skin? I can’t say anything for a moment. and he shot Daniel in the leg. And you don’t remember the bikes?’ ‘Pedal-bikes?’ ‘No. ‘I
. Then she gazes straight at me again. ‘What do you know about him. or him taking Mia?’ ‘He took Mia?’ ‘Yes. Adam?’ I think about this before I answer. stroking my hand.’ I say at last.‘What’s the last thing you remember?’ ‘Sitting by a fire with you. So you don’t remember him coming. He shot one of his own men dead.’ She looks away from me. ‘It’ll come back. You’re here now. Adam. ‘… this place isn’t.’ Sarah pulls a face.’ I try to look inside my mind. to search out these missing pages. He stopped them asking me questions. That’s how you knocked yourself out. ‘Don’t get stressed.’ He shot one of his own men. but I’m grasping at thin air. We’ve got to get out of here.’ ‘That was Daniel and the people at his camp. Before Saul turned up. examining her fingernails. too. The guy lying in the road. whopping great motorbikes. You’re safe.’ ‘Saul says it’s safe. ‘No. People listen to him.’ Sarah’s soothing me. ‘He’s … powerful. but …’ she pauses. do what he says. We were in the woods. got me back here to you.
to the past. slap. ‘I think they’re okay – they’re at the camp with Daniel’s friends. slap. Why can’t I remember?’ I slap my forehead with the palm of my hand.’ Her eyes fill with tears. the noise is winding me up more. The movement. be my right-hand man …
Is this is the man who abducted my daughter and my girlfriend. ‘Adam! Stop it! Adam!’
. But I don’t know for sure. but I can’t stop. ‘What is this place? Why are we here?’
Slap. Your brothers. further back. Mia twists round and looks at me. Daniel tried to help us …’ For a brief moment. He’s holding a rifle to his face. I slap my head again. who shot my friend? But why did he help me. take my side against Newsome? I struggle back to the present. Sarah. the shimmering number …
I want you to work with me.’ I feel like I’m going mad. laughing by the fire. A friend.
It’s not helping. ‘The boys. ‘What else don’t I know?’ I look at Sarah then. I see a man with a beard. She squirms away from me and sits down the other side of Sarah.can’t believe it …’ Then I stop. ‘What happened?’ ‘It was when we were kidnapped. Her eyes are wide and troubled. We have to get back to them. standing in the road. ‘I can’t remember. shooting at something … Then the picture’s gone. remembering the dark eyes that seemed lit by fire. and another memory slots into place – two boys. and then.
It’s our family.’ I put my arm round her and give her a squeeze. too. Two big shapes – one red. ‘Mia done it. if you really look. Mia and the boys. don’t she?’ I say. I can hear the fear in her voice but I can’t stop. and then at the picture again. And then I get it.’ Sarah’s smiling. ‘do you remember your nan saying she could see my aura?’ ‘Daddy. then to the blue and pink one.’ I say. ‘I bet you’ll know what it is.I’m shaking my head now. ‘That’s awesome. ‘Look at this. ‘Mummy. ‘Adam! Look!’ Sarah’s holding something in front of me. trying to shake my thoughts back into place.’ Sarah says slowly. a family of shapes.’ This is big.’ I look at Mia. The colours mean something.’ she says.
. I whistle through my front teeth. like a thunderbolt striking or a firework going off. too proud to say anything. ‘Adam. breaking through my mad wound-up state. Mia’s smiling now. Me. the other blue and pink – and three smaller ones. Sarah. Straight away I can see it’s a family. beaming.’ There are five round shapes in different colours. I can see by the look on Sarah’s face she thinks so. ‘Mia’s picture.’ ‘What is it?’ Peeping round Sarah. ‘She’s got it from Val. ‘Did you really draw this?’ Mia nods. one green. pointing to the red shape. too. ‘It’s us. ‘She sees them. one orange and a little yellow one.’ says Mia.
Sarah. and she can see auras. too. She’s the living proof that something amazing and terrifying happened two years ago in that fire. and the same question that’s nagged at me before resurfaces in my head. her gift? Or did Mia take it? Can she reach out and take anybody’s life?
. Did Nan give her all this – her life. She’s a tiny. fragile little thing. A death that fitted Nan. with someone else’s number.‘She’s got her number. but sits oddly with her. I’ve got goosepimples all over me.’ I look down at Mia and her number teases my mind.
There’s this woman. I don’t think so.
‘Do they know? Do they know anything about her?’ ‘No.’ He’s silent for a moment. and she was pushing all the time.’ ‘Her number’s different. She’s special – even more than we thought.’ I say. ‘You don’t have to tell.Chapter 23: Sarah ‘W e’ve got to get her out of here. I’ve only ever seen one other one like it. But they’re interested. that interviewed us this morning. too.’ ‘Do you think she knew what it meant?’ ‘No. looking away from me. we’ve got to protect Mia. I don’t want to know people’s numbers. She was the one who got Mia drawing.
.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘It shimmers in my head. He’s wrestling with something inside. do we?’ I say. Adam. it’s just you and me. and I know not to push him. She’s different.’ ‘Who? Someone here?’ He pauses. Marion. like he doesn’t know whether to tell me or not. towards the door. ‘We don’t know what really happened in the fire. so I turn the conversation back to Mia. poking her nose into our business.
‘Well. Then I just walked through the fire. the splintering of timbers all around us. I thought she’d be okay. She touched you. What do you think happened? Can you remember?’ He rubs a hand over his forehead. My number wasn’t that day. staring at me.’
. You went out and I held Mia. ‘Really hot. disorientated in the fire.’ ‘You were there.’ ‘I did. I’m there with him now. So why didn’t you get her number?’ ‘I don’t know. Only a few steps more …”’ He lets go of me and flops back in his wheelchair. but I heard her voice. or nothing. mouth half-open.’ He leans towards me and grips my shoulders. but someone grabbed my hand and pulled me round so I was facing the right way. Her number was a good one. I didn’t see her.‘No. ‘She was there with you. ‘Why didn’t you ever say?’ ‘I wasn’t sure if it really happened. ‘She was hot. I heard her voice. was it? Mia’s was.’ In my mind.’ ‘What?’ I’ve never told him this before. I can smell our singeing flesh and hair. hard. too. I can hear the crackle of the flames. wasn’t she?’ he goes on and his voice trembles a little. And we stayed to find Mia. “It’s this way. But I think it did. ‘I sent Nan out through the flames. I didn’t see Nan. Maybe Val reached out to her. I was confused. We all were. I felt her hand. tried to shield her from the flames.
It’s a miracle we’ve still got her and we have to protect her. I’m sorry. what happened to her – it’s dynamite. I can’t help thinking about the night by the fire. and so has he. Mia too. Before I can blink. sharp voice cuts through the shouting and screaming. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ ‘Adam!’ I’m so focused on him. when he woke her up to look at her.’ He’s standing there. What she done. Someone’s digging a knee into the small of his back. face pressed against the concrete. you’re right. Light floods in from the corridor as half a dozen soldiers burst in. arms folded. I don’t notice Saul coming in until a deep. We have to keep her number secret. I draw Mia closer to me. He’s looking at Mia and me. They don’t look at us. ‘Take him away. I’m screaming. but he’s not looking down at Adam. just you and me. And we gotta get her out of here.’ ‘Yeah. Adam. It takes half a dozen of them to carry Adam out. It feels like my fault somehow. keep her safe. ‘I never thought … I never thought I’d lose her. and I hate him now. I can see he’s in agony.I’ve got tears in my eyes now.’ ‘I know.’ And that’s when the cell door blasts open. I hated him then. they don’t speak. I don’t know why. ‘She reached out to you. I feel guilty. He’s down. But we’re so lucky to have Mia. We got to keep it quiet. He completely loses it after Saul comes in – shouting at him.’ he repeats. pushing the air out of him. they throw Adam out of the wheelchair and pin him to the floor.
I’m screaming. No sunlight.’ If Adam’s lost to me. that’s all I know. asleep on the bed. Why did it take all this to make me realise?
. ‘Where’s Adam? What have they done to him?’ ‘He’s in solitary. but there’s pity in his eyes as they flick to Mia. Mia and me. I need him. Especially after today. with a bathroom that’s two paces by three. but it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. if you don’t count the grille in the door. ‘I don’t know. I can’t believe I’m going to be shut in here. but awake on my own the thoughts spin in my head. round and round. Soup and crackers. I love him.’ The prospect of another sleepless night is horrific. I’ve only just got him back. his anger blotting out the pain from his injuries. then I don’t think I can cope. ‘You’ll get some sleep. I can’t believe I’m losing him again. No fresh air. And there’s something else on the tray – a little plastic cup with a white pill inside. ‘I’d take it.’ ‘I don’t understand why they took him away. if I were you. but eventually she’s soothed with a cuddle and a song.’ ‘No. No windows. We were just talking … How long will they keep him there? When can I see him?’ He shrugs. We all use them in here. thanks. I lose track of time. If only that would work for me.’ he says. but I won’t take pills. I honestly don’t. But that’s how it is. Mia’s been on a rollercoaster today and it’s left her disturbed and upset.kicking out. Milk for Mia. Locked in a room that’s five paces by four. The same squaddie with the moustache brings food – I don’t know what meal this is meant to be.
and we stand next to it. He turns on the shower. They know about Mia. the only person in this place who has shown me any sympathy. waiting for the penny to drop. He’s the only person I can ask. I have no choice. without a shadow of a doubt. I frown at him.
He looks at me steadily. keeping his voice low despite the water thundering into the shower tray. I can’t take anything that’ll affect the baby.’ the squaddie says. suddenly. but I can tell he doesn’t like this. confused. ‘Look. ‘I don’t take pills and anyway. nodding to the plastic cup on the tray.
Overheard.’ I look at him. ‘Shall I put the shower on for you?’ he says. They were listening in.’ I tell him. I look at the squaddie. That’s why they came to take Adam – to get him out of the way.’ ‘You really think so?’ He looks shifty for a minute. I follow him in. And now I realise. shocked. And they know I want to get out of here. ‘Otherwise they’ll be in with an injection. I need your help – we need
. It means we haven’t got long.’ ‘They wouldn’t give it to you if it wasn’t all right. They know about her number swap and her seeing Val’s auras. And then it does. Will the noise of the shower really block out our words? What if it’s a trick to get me to talk more? I have to trust him. ‘I can’t. We’ve got to escape. What’s he talking about? Then he beckons me to the bathroom. He shrugs.’ he says. that the next person they’ll take is Mia. ‘We won’t be overheard here. so there’s no one here to protect us.‘I actually have to see you take the pill.
Sarah.your help – to get out of here. ‘What does that mean?’ He runs his finger across his throat.’ I say.’ I’m close to tears now.’ he whispers. She’d have died if it wasn’t for Adam. ‘Please. He looks nervous.’ He looks me straight in the eye. Hers was one of the blocks that went. For a heart-stopping moment. ‘I’m desperate. He’s blinking rapidly. he’s on our side. ‘If I’m caught helping you they could court-martial me. by the way.’ He bites his lip.’
. If he’s acting he’s doing a good job of it.’ I’ve said it now. The whole lot came down. Will he help us? We stare at each other for several long seconds. ‘Otherwise I wouldn’t ask you. ‘Adam saved my mother’s life. I lean forward to catch his words. Then he says. ‘She had a flat on the twelfth floor of a block in West London. please.’ He’s talking so quietly I can hardly hear him over the sound of the shower.’ I put my hand on his arm. ‘I’ll help you. ‘Really?’ I say. She saw Adam on the TV news and got out. ‘It’s too difficult. looking at me and then away again. ‘I’m Adrian. He nods.’ he says.’ ‘Thank you. I wonder if I’ve misjudged him. ‘Wait here. What will happen if they’ve heard? Even if they haven’t. Adrian. Can you get a message to him?’ Adrian sucks the air in between his teeth. I’ll do my best. So I owe him. I’ve put my life – and Mia’s and Adam’s – in this squaddie’s hands.’ I allow myself a tiny drop of relief. ‘Thanks.
Sarah. I close my fingers round it. ‘That’s it. Marty and Luke. I write: ‘Come back to me. grab my sketch from under the mattress and Mia’s crayon. fixed on the grille in the door. thinking of the people I’m missing. my eyes are open. Goodnight. I return to the bathroom and drop the pill into the toilet. It dances in the swirling water when I pull the flush.’ He tips the pill out from the plastic cup onto my hand. He takes the paper. We can be watched all night. or is he lying somewhere beaten to a pulp? Are Marty and Luke still with Daniel? Is Daniel still alive? All the time I’m thinking.
. I can’t lie there.I run back into the room. We will be watched all night.’ he says. I promise. It’ll do you good.’ When he’s gone. Will Adam get my message? Will he be able to read it if he does. giving me a brief wink. In the end. Trust Adrian. sleeping. ‘Now let me see you take this. loudly. and then it disappears. It’s difficult to know what to say. in full view. I lie next to Mia. It’s directly opposite the bed. on the bed. and puts it in the chest pocket of his jacket. He hesitates. Not long afterwards the striplight in the middle of the ceiling goes off and the room is plunged into darkness again. Especially if it does fall into the wrong hands. Adam. Then I fold it over twice and hand it to Adrian. ‘Down the hatch. he says. xx’ Adam will know what it means. Back in the bedroom. the only light coming from the grille and the two cracks above and below the door. looking at Mia curled up.
my screams echo round my head. I can smell his sourness. I lean my head on the door and close my eyes. Won’t somebody help me?’
. to dream.I slip out of bed. somewhere safe. strangled within my pain-wracked body. ‘Help. see the stubble pinpricks on his jaw He licks . I look around for somewhere to hide. He’s breathing almost as fast as I am. I’m rooted here. Here with him. wave upon wave. his lips. but misses a small bead of saliva at the corner of his mouth. The baby’s shifting around inside me. I don’t want to sleep. But I can’t run. sidle over to the door. and slide down on to the floor. I have to get away. I’ve never felt such terror before. But it’s not Mia with me. but exhaustion washes over me anyway.
I’m not alone any more. It’s someone else. I want to scream but my voice is paralysed. Help. I can’t see the grille. Pain ripples through me. I can’t even walk. His face is close to mine. I put my back to it. Instead. My legs won’t work. There are hiding places everywhere – trees and stones and bushes. and they can’t see me.
I didn’t even kick off until after they ambushed me. I hear the lock in the door. I don’t know how long I’ve been in here. ‘Adam. I need to tell them this is a mistake. I don’t even want to think about what they are. I’ve had no food or water. I sit up on the mattress. seems like a year ago. He leans against the door. ‘What day is it?’ ‘Tuesday. There are marks on the wall. Bare concrete walls. scared. He nods to the soldier guarding the door. February. dark smears. and we’re alone. ‘how are you?’ ‘Tired. I must look blank because he adds. There must.’ The twelfth. Confused. trying to be ready for whatever’s coming next. a mattress and a bucket. There must be a way out of here. the day that guy got shot.’ I say. I can’t figure out what would get me out.’ The door closes.’ he says. The lights have been on the whole time. My brain won’t work in here. I’m not out for trouble. I lost it again. ‘The thirteenth. It’s Saul. how I can get back to Sarah. I don’t need to be locked up. angry. And Saul’s number is staring me in the face now.
.Chapter 24: Adam I’m
in a real prison cell now. but I was only defending myself.’ he says. so what the fuck am I here for? I know I didn’t help. ‘I’ll knock when I’m done.
finally. ‘That’s what you’re here for. to Mia. It hits me with the full force of a
. That’s twisted. It’s not right. It makes me feel weak.’ ‘You’ve got a very simplistic view of right and wrong. Why did you take me away from them? Why am I here? I don’t understand. Shimmering like Mia’s … Then. ‘I can hardly remember being eighteen. and I’m terrified. it’s obscene to be in that much agony.’ He smiles cryptically. It’s excruciating. shimmering. breathless. Sometimes everything’s the “wrong” choice – you have to choose the lesser of two evils. Adam. I don’t want him in the room. only a couple of days away now. His number. I need your help. It’s full of difficult decisions.’ He shakes his head. I don’t want him this close. ‘I want to get back to Sarah.’ ‘I don’t believe that. And I feel his final pain.’ He comes over to the mattress and squats down next to me. like a punch to my guts.’ The smile fades from his face. ‘I want out of here.’ I say.1622029. I get the full force of his number and it makes me gasp. Adam. Life isn’t black and white. I shift uncomfortably where I sit. We need your help. I feel the pain.’ He puffs his breath out. Three days to go. ‘I can’t do that. How old are you?’ ‘Eighteen. I don’t like him this close. ‘I don’t want to help if it means choosing who’s left to die. I get it. I want to look away but I can’t. ‘You’re so young.’ I say. ‘If only you knew …’ he says. looks down at his feet. My heart’s racing. To understand – and to help us understand your gift. Then he turns and looks directly at me. He’s got me in his headlights.
tinny. painfully. I want to shrug him off. then gives a little laugh.’ There’s an edge of anger in his voice. Saul has someone else’s number.’ he says. Is he going to kill me? Is that what he’s saying? He puts one hand on my shoulder.’ The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. I want to see numbers.’ ‘Why?’ I ask the question.’
And then. the very last second. leans even closer. ‘But I already know it. Adam Dawson. ‘Well.’ he says. My voice sounds far away. watching my face. slowly. His breath is sour and there’s a bubble of spit in the corner of his mouth. There’s no other explanation. like the surface of his skin is alive. ‘I only see them at the very last minute. ‘Because I want you to be my eyes. I can’t speak. ‘You asked if I wanted to know my number. Adam. ‘At the moment when they leave one soul and just before they enter mine.’ ‘But I thought … Don’t you know your own number?’ ‘I do see them. But …’ He grits his teeth. but I can’t move. even though I don’t want to hear the answer. The little muscles in his face are twitching. His black eyes are still burning into mine and deep inside them there’s a flicker of madness.
‘I want to see what you see.
. ‘I’ve been looking for you for a long time.’ he says softly. my mind takes the next step. nobody I wasn’t just about to kill. a hint of the frustration he’s bottling up inside. ‘I’ve never told anyone.’ I stare at him. I’m paralysed with fear.sledgehammer.
the smell of oil in my nostrils. I feel the wind on my face. then nothing … Just like Mia …
There’s no words to express what I’m feeling – all I can do is sit and stare with my guts turning to water inside me.Them. A cat with nine lives. Sarah on the back. and I’m flying. the pulsing of the engine in my hands and legs. Saul’s riding next to me.
He’s a number-stealer. More than nine …
Just like Mia … Just like Mia … I’m riding a motorbike.
. A crack. He salutes. Saul has taken more than one number.
Sarah?’ ‘I don’t know. Which nightmare am I in? Am I fourteen again? Is my dad here? The room’s dark. My cell. I’ve never been there but I can still smell the dankness in my nostrils. ‘You were panicking in your sleep. Leave me alone!’ But I do know. crouching in front of me.Chapter 25: Sarah I wake. I’m lying on a
thin mattress. Just get out. Is He here now. her body looming over me. I remember this chemical smell. The chemical smell. feel the cold seeping into my
. The panic was real – my heart’s still jumping in my chest – and the pain was real and the place was real. She’s got her hand on my shoulder. I can’t keep Him out. And finally. Reality’s slipping and sliding. He said he’d kill me if I did … Now there’s a woman. She’s silhouetted against the rectangle of light from the half-open door. ‘You were dreaming. or has He just been here? It can’t be me crying – I wasn’t allowed to make any noise. into a dark room. weren’t you?’ ‘Get out of my room!’ I scream. There’s no lock on the door. one reality crystallises from the soup of memories and nightmares. And Marion. wreathed in sweat. Her face is in shadow. ‘What were you dreaming.’ she says. Someone’s crying.
You shouldn’t be in someone’s room. Mia’s here. hurt her.bones. Sarah?’ ‘Nothing. Get out! Get out!’ I fling the covers back and launch myself at her. I know there’s a time coming when she’ll be gone. scratch her. my dreams have stopped. I drew the Chaos without thinking – it was there. But she’s been through so much in the last couple of days. too. her breathing quickens.’ ‘Was it you looking before? Is that how you get your kicks. you evil bitch. Mia’s upset again. trying to hit her. I saw you. I sit with her on the bed until she falls asleep again.
. ‘Nothing! I don’t know. My arms are flailing. ‘Sarah. And I drew the new nightmare. What do you dream now.’ I shout. looking at people?’ ‘I don’t … I don’t know what …’ ‘You shouldn’t be here. Tears brim in my eyes. And finally she moves. I can see it – just as I saw the Chaos. seen so much. It’s coming soon. slamming the door behind her. ‘Don’t cry. It’s wrong. This whole place is wrong. I watch her chest rise and fall. After a while. too – she reaches up to touch my face. Mummy. ‘give me a break!’ ‘You saw the Chaos. I told you already. didn’t you. in my head.’ But I can’t stop.’ ‘You were dreaming just now.’ she says. listen to her regular breathing. hurrying out of the room. what was it? What was in your dream?’ Marion’s still here. ‘Mummy crying. For Christ’s sake. It’s going to happen. Sarah? You saw the date and you drew it. maybe an hour later.
.Her arms and legs twitch now and again. and she murmurs in her sleep. She’s dreaming.
like the grin a fox has on its face when it’s looking at a rabbit. Telling numbers is wrong. ‘I told you.’
‘Where’ve you got that idea from?’ I clam up.’ he carries on.’ I let his words sink in. If I could pick it up …’ ‘I can’t teach you.’ he says. It’s wrong.’ ‘Save them?’ ‘Save them from me. He wants numbers with a long life. Saul. I’m acting blind now. I don’t want him dissing my mum. It’s like he’s talking to himself now. If I could learn. I don’t even know how I do it. ‘I’ll give you mine. He tuts and shakes his head in irritation. but it’s a mockery of a smile. ‘If only I could see numbers. Adam. people that are going to die soon – at least.Chapter 26: Adam ‘I can’t help you. You can save people. ‘Yeah. too soon for him. Would you give it to me … if I asked you nicely?’ He’s smiling at me now. I like that – it’s a swap. He means saving the ones with the wrong numbers.’ I say. If he did that I really would have to batter him. if you give me yours.’ ‘No. ‘You’re not thinking clearly. ‘It’s something I was born with.’ He laughs.’
. ‘you can’t teach me.’ he says. I need to know. life isn’t black and white. if I could master it. But maybe you can give it to me. ‘I just need to find the right one … at the right time.
Saul gets up too. And the worst of it is. as clear as day. She can’t be a killer. My girl. My little girl. this room ain’t big enough for all the thoughts in there right now. Mia has a number that shimmers.I know then. He’s killed more than once to stay alive. I can’t get away from it. that if I don’t help him. ‘Fuck off. ‘If not you. perhaps?’ Then he walks to the door and knocks to be let out. Nan’s number. Left alone. ‘Who’s gifted like you? Who’s got your gift? Your daughter. Too close. he’ll take mine and hope my number-seeing comes with it. he’ll help himself. I jump up and stride over to the opposite wall. I’ve got Saul’s words going round and round my head. His number’s haunting me. Does this mean that Mia is the same as Saul? Is my daughter a murderer? I sit on the mattress and bury my face in my hands.’ I say. To be honest. Adam. can she?
. The sheer delight. Fear makes the words catch in my throat. when his number is up. He’ll kill me. Saul. The wonder on it. leaning my hands against it. I know what sort of monster Saul is now. dropping my head between my arms. He comes and stands close to me. And he’s threatened to kill Mia. I think of her face the first time I showed her a bird’s nest with a clutch of pale blue eggs inside. then who?’ he says quietly into my ear. too. In two days’ time. I see it shimmering in my head with my eyes open or closed. He’s threatened to kill me.
only now I feel like I could write a book. this one. well. He hands it to me and I put it on the bed – soup. not moving. I look down. ‘Tell her—’ I begin. I ain’t ready to talk no more. meaningfully. Trust Adrian. I’ve never been good at reading and writing.I don’t look up when I hear the door opening again. I tried. He clears his throat and nods towards the tray. not the one he wants anyway. a skinny guy with a wispy moustache. Maybe I need to warn her about Mia … I take the pencil. If it’s Saul. It’s a piece of paper.’ And two kisses. He’s clever. Finally I look up at his face. He looks the same age as me. He’s definitely waiting for something. A different squaddie every time. I can’t give him an answer. but I never really got it. they could be listening in. There’s something sticking out from underneath the soup bowl. The guy’s still standing there. crackers and a cup of water. I flip the paper over and there’s some writing. It’s signed Sarah. Ssh. The soldier makes a show of looking at the paper and closing his eyes. almost like he’s waiting for a tip. but he puts a finger to his lips. I’ve got so much to tell her. The soldier turns his back. I fish it out and unfold it. I need to warn her about Saul – but I know she hates him already. He nods. But it’s not Saul. I can send a reply. so much I need her to know. There’s a drawing of a graveyard on one side. a little flushed. He’s telling me he won’t
. I want her to know that I love her. It’s a soldier carrying a tray of food. I want her to know that I’ll get back to her. Of course. whatever it takes. He’s nervous. He knows the ropes. Six words: ‘Come back to me. He holds a stub of a pencil out towards me. ‘Are you Adrian?’ I ask. Weird.
xx’ I fold the paper back up again. The end of the pencil hovers above the paper. I nod at him and he leaves.
. And I’m left alone with my thoughts again. and the soldier turns round. ‘Thanks.look at what I’ve written. and the numbers – Saul’s and Mia’s – shimmering in front of my eyes. Why has Sarah put her faith in him? I got a look at his number when he came in – he’s got years left. I write my message. Something doesn’t add up. takes the paper and puts it in his pocket. There’s something weak about him – weak in body and soul. What do I say? Will this guy really not read the message? What’s to stop him having a look as soon as he’s out of this room? I would. I don’t think I want his help. if I was him.’ I say. ‘Trust no one. years and years. Then he turns his back again. It seems lame. But he doesn’t look like someone who should survive. He’s a survivor. I’ll be back.
and now Marion’s back. The door opens. What the hell are they doing? She’s a little girl. she starts yelling and struggling. I’m pulled out of bed and my left arm is yanked up behind my back. ‘Stop it! Stop it! Leave my daughter alone! Leave her alone!’ Someone slaps my face hard. Through it I can see Mia. Half asleep. I can’t help her. I can see her hands and feet flailing around. you cow!’ I shout. I can’t believe my eyes. They’re taping wires onto her now. We’ve left our escape too late. shocking me into silence. Somebody swoops on Mia and picks her up. ‘Get off me. They’ve come for us. ‘Don’t come in here!’ Mia starts to wake up. but it’s the whitecoats this time. hear her screams. It’s obscene. It’s outrageous.’ I’m pushed across the room and out of the door. Get your filthy hands off me. ‘What are you doing? What’s happening?’ Mia’s taken into one room and I’m bundled into another. The room I’m in has a huge glass window. but they’re holding her down. She’s fighting them. Mia’s gone before me.Chapter 27: Sarah The light goes on and I hear the key in the door. She’s being put onto a bed. I’ve been
awake since my nightmare. ‘Don’t come in. tightening straps around her arms and legs. for Chrissake!
’ By the time I’ve got into Mia’s room. He leans over Mia. ‘What do you see? Don’t worry. ‘Oh my God. ‘Sarah.’ he says. Mia!’ I rush to her side. ‘Can you turn her round gently. it’s all right.’ ‘Good. Mia. I’m in charge of Mia’s assessment. ‘so she’s
. He’s got a white coat on. You don’t have to tell me. ‘Mum-meee!’ ‘It’s all right.’ he says. They’re being checked by technicians and supervised by Doctor Newsome.’ Mia squirms her head away from him. and a squashed kind of face. ‘Look into my eyes. got it. darling. too. Someone needs to be in there with her. including on her scalp.’ ‘Assessment? What assessment? What are you assessing by treating her like this?’ ‘We’re undertaking a scientific assessment of her extraordinary powers. a million lights and dials and screens.’ ‘Who the hell are you?’ ‘I’m Doctor Newsome. Do you want it to be you?’ ‘Yes. ‘Yep. ‘There was a little eye contact there.A man’s standing in front of me now. just look. they’ve taped sensors all over her body.’ There’s a bank of monitors in the room.’ one of them replies. ‘I want you to listen to me. Did you get that?’ Newsome asks his assistants. of course. yes. Tell this idiot to let go of my arm and I’ll go in there.’ Newsome asks. Let her go.
loud and clear. addressing the mirror. but only because I don’t want him touching her. trying to move her arms and legs against the straps. near the ceiling. sure.’ ‘Okay. ‘What’s happening?’ Newsome turns to face me.
. or put on the air con or something?’ ‘Yeah. ‘Are you getting this?’ ‘Yes.’ The technicians start leaving. I glance up – there’s a speaker above the mirror. or an animal in a zoo. to comfort her. ‘Could you turn the heating down. ‘We’ll need to leave you for this part of the procedure. The large rectangle that I know is a window looks like a mirror from this side. and Mia and me. ‘We’re ready. I hear a bolt sliding on the other side. we’ve got the baseline data. ‘It’s very hot in here. As soon as we’re face to face her features crumple. All I can see is this grim room.’ I say. Your role is to stay with Mia.’ he says.’ Newsome’s voice booms into the room. I feel like an exhibit in a museum. ‘We’ll sort it out. She tries to reach out towards me.’ Mia’s whining. I know they’re all watching.’ he says and closes the door behind him.looking at you?’ I do as he asks. I know they can see me and I know they can hear me. because of the baby …’ ‘You’ll be fine.’ ‘What tests are you actually doing? Is it an X-ray? Is that why you’re going? I’m not sure I should stay.
Can you open the door. Please sit with Mia. What are you doing?’ ‘I’ll explain later. it’s the whole system. But we must continue the tests. My legs are starting to feel wobbly. Then. This is getting dangerous.’ ‘Is it hot where you are?’ ‘Yes. but not because he’s told me to. Her forehead is damp and her cheeks are pink. do not touch the sensors. and so is Mia. She’s only wearing a little T-shirt and some pants. I told you.’ ‘We need some air in here. Do you understand me? Do not touch them. The spots of colour on her face are getting brighter.’ ‘What analysis? What data? You never actually told me.’ ‘Is the heat part of the tests?’ ‘No. We’re gathering a crucial set of data that will help with our analysis. ‘It’s getting hotter.’ I do sit on the bed.’
. moaning.’ I say. I’ll have to disconnect all the things on her head.’ ‘There’s nothing to be alarmed about.‘Try and lie still a minute.’ ‘Sarah. yes. ‘What is the temperature in here?’ I ask. to the mirror. ‘Mia’s getting too hot. I’ve seen them before. We’ve got a temporary problem with the heating system. I’m sweating all over and it’s hard to breathe. there’s a fault in the central heating system. Just stay with Mia. We’re working to fix it now. ‘I’m going to have to take her top off.’ I say. Mia’s showing signs of distress too: thrashing her head from side to side. please?’ I’m sweating now. ‘Thirty degrees.
‘Thirty! For God’s sake, that’s enough. Open the door.’ ‘It’s the same everywhere.’ ‘I don’t believe you.’ Mia’s straining at the straps. I touch her face. It’s red hot. I look round the room for some water, anything to cool her down. There’s nothing. ‘Can you bring us some water, please?’ I can hear the panic in my voice. I know I should be keeping calm for Mia’s sake, but I can’t. Alarm bells are screaming through my body. ‘Doctor Newsome, can you bring us some water?’ ‘We’ll be with you very soon.’ ‘No!’ I scream. ‘We need it now!’ My breathing’s out of control now, coming faster and faster, but I’m getting more light-headed. ‘Try and keep calm, Sarah.’ I look at the bank of monitors near the bed, a battery of traces moving across the screens, with numbers and counters of all sorts. They don’t mean a thing to me, except one number. On several of the screens there’s the same number: 35 degrees. I watch as it changes, and, yes, it changes on every screen. 36 degrees. We’re being cooked in here. Mia starts to cry, not a hearty full-on yell like she does if she’s fallen over or hurt herself, but a thin, watery noise. Her cheeks were very pink before, now they’re mottled – livid red blotches sitting on pale, almost alabaster skin. She was moving around a few moments ago, showing her discomfort. Now, she’s gone very still. Her eyes are glassy. The changes in her are all happening very, very fast. ‘Oh God. Doctor, help us, please. Mia’s overheating. Please, help us. We can’t let her overheat.’
I start scrabbling at the buckles on her straps. I should have done this to start with. I shouldn’t have let it go this far. ‘Don’t touch the straps, Sarah. We’ll be right with you. Keep her on the bed. Keep as calm as you can.’ ‘I need to get her out of here.’ I’ve undone the strap round one of her arms, but my sweaty fingers keep slipping on the other buckle and my strength has been sapped by the heat. I can’t do it. ‘Stay where you are. We’ll be right with you.’ One more glance at the monitors – 41 degrees. The room’s spinning around me. I can’t keep it together. I keel over onto the mattress next to Mia. The baby’s squirming inside me, pushing against my stomach and my ribs. Saliva floods into my mouth – I’m going to be sick. I move my head and spit onto the floor. I can’t see any more. The room’s gone black. I’ve got my left arm across Mia. I can feel her even if I can’t see her. And I can hear her. ‘Mum-meee.’ It’s a thin, reedy noise, like an alarm bell in my head. It brings me round. I open my eyes and the room comes back into focus. I lift my head just in time to see her eyes roll back into her head and her body go stiff. ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. Somebody help us! Help! Please help!’ She starts to convulse, arms and legs twitching against her restraints, head jerking. I can hardly breathe. I try to hold onto her limbs. ‘Mia! Mia, come back to me! Mia!’ The jerking gets more violent. It’s terrifying, but I can’t do anything to stop her. All I can do is watch and try and keep her from harming herself. Then her whole body goes stiff. Her eyes are still open but I can only see the whites. I cradle
her face in my hands. ‘Mia. Mia. Can you hear me? Mia. Mia!’ It feels like she’s gone, like her body’s empty. ‘Oh God, no. Please, please, please.’ I slap her face. She gives a little moan and her eyes roll down and just for a moment she sees me again, I know she does. ‘Mia, don’t leave me. It’s not your time. Mia, stay with me. Stay with me.’ She’s pale now – the blotches have gone – a pale, stickthin girl lying on a bed much too big for her. Her eyes close and her arms and legs go limp. The door blasts open bringing a rush of cold air. Newsome and the whole team of staff sweep in. ‘Stand back, please.’ They jostle me aside and I stagger backwards. My body’s got no strength left in it. My back hits the wall and I sink to the floor. I don’t know if my daughter’s alive or dead.
Chapter 28: Adam Saul’s back. This time he brings a couple of armed thugs
with him. Am I going to get a beating? Is he going to kill me now? They cuff my wrists behind my back and shove me out of the door. ‘Right or wrong, you’re going to help me now. You’re needed,’ Saul says, and he barges past and sets off down the corridor at a run. My posse are digging me in the back, pushing me, dragging me along – it’s all bruises on top of bruises. I ain’t in any position to resist. ‘Leave off,’ I say. ‘I’m coming, all right.’ My words don’t make no difference. They enjoy this shit. We lose sight of Saul, but it don’t take long to catch up with him. We turn a corner and the corridor ahead is full of people running around like headless chickens. They’re mostly piling into one room, and that’s where we go. To start with it’s difficult to work out what’s going on. It looks like there’s a crowd of people round a bed, so many I can’t see who’s on it. Saul is shouting at Newsome. ‘What the hell were you doing?’ ‘I was doing my job, Saul. The girl changed her number – we were scientifically recreating those conditions to analyse what happens.’ The girl. Mia. They know she changed her number. How? How could they know that? Then I remember the soldier with the
message, putting his finger to his lips. They could be listening in. They did listen in – they listened to me and Sarah. That’s the only way they could know. What have they done? ‘I didn’t agree to that,’ Saul spits out. ‘I don’t need your sign-off, Saul. I’m the Chief Scientific Officer. I sign off all research. This is my project. You’re just
They’re facing each other, standing nearly chest to chest like two fighting birds. ‘I’m in charge of this facility,’ Saul shouts into Newsome’s face, ‘in charge of the whole place, or are you forgetting that?’ ‘What do you know about science?’ Newsome sneers. ‘What do you know about numbers? What are you even doing here?’ His chins are quivering. Saul shoots me a quick look. I twig instantly.
Newsome don’t know about his number-stealing.
I open my mouth – I’ll shout it from the rooftops, if it helps me get out of here – then I think about Saul’s threats. And I remember. He’s murdered before.
If not you, then who?
I close my mouth. I’m helpless. I can’t tell anyone. And anyway, they’d never believe me. My word against his. What can I do? ‘What do you know about this girl, Newsome?’ Saul’s saying. ‘What has your research shown you? Has her number changed? Or has your scientific meddling killed her?’
I try to shrug off my minders, to get to the bed. As I twist
her number comforts me. but they’re still that piercing blue and the number’s the same. And now I can see Mia. It’s Sarah. suddenly.’ he says to the people round him. She’s breathing.around I notice a figure slumped on the floor. It’s still there. Her face is flushed and shiny. ‘For God’s sake. pushing through the crowd. Saul.
. Her eyes are closed. Some people protest as they’re shoved out of the way. loving future waiting for us. And I can’t let that number change.’ Her chest is rising and falling – shallow little breaths. 2572075. I’m not doing anything until you’ve untied us both. Saul ignores them.’ ‘Do it. helping the others get the straps and the wires off Mia. they’re free. what’ve you bastards done to her?’ ‘Look in her eyes. She’s floppy and pale. 2022054. She’s alive. Mia’s number. My hands are wrenched up my back. Adam. Even in the middle of all this madness. are you all right? What’s happened?’ She shakes her head. Her eyes are bloodshot. Somehow we’re gonna get through this. but then. peaceful. but her number’s the same. Tell me what you see. Her arms and legs have been strapped to the bed. ‘Fuck off. I can’t let Saul near her – but what about Mia? ‘Sarah. Once she’s free. her eyes dull. Difficult to believe it. and completely still. while they fumble with the cuffs. unable to speak. but that’s what her number’s saying. There’s a happy. She opens her eyes slowly. Saul grabs my arm and leads me away from her. I lift her up and carry her over to Sarah. I crouch down on the floor. I call her name and she looks up. I reach forward. Nan’s number.
‘We’re all running out of time …’ His voice sounds strangled and I glance up. His number sears my mind. ‘For fuck’s sake.’ ‘Time. Saul. the very last second. I see them just at the moment that they leave one soul and just before they enter mine. are you all right?’ ‘Mum-mee. looking at me for an answer. and she’ll have his. I close my eyes for a couple of seconds. But at the very last minute. but I’m not in the mood to give in to him. 1622029. We need some space. leave us alone.’ I put Mia in Sarah’s arms. just so he can find out what it is.
I do see them. ‘So?’ Saul’s voice cuts in. there’s another way I can find out.
He’ll take her away from this room and he’ll take her number. ‘So what?’ ‘Has her number changed?’ ‘I’m not telling you. looking down. ‘If you won’t tell me.‘Is she …? Mia. some time.’ he says.’ One of his heavy boots shifts on the floor – he’s itching to kick me. then glare up at him. He’ll have her number. ‘Give me the girl.’ ‘What does he mean?’ Sarah’s holding Mia as tight as she can. He’ll gamble it’s better than his own – that her gifts will be more powerful than his – and he won’t be wrong. He’s standing right in front of us. I know exactly what he means. Adam. and one of the heavy boots starts tapping on the floor.’ he says.
. Time really is running out for Saul.
‘It has to be her last day. ‘How very … poetic. I can hear the terror in it. what it means for all of us.‘No!’ I shout. We bottled it the first time. Newsome curses.’ He looks as mad as Saul now. ‘but we don’t know that. ‘It’s Mia. please. ‘It’s not you. Whatever she’s been through has pushed her over the edge and beyond. ‘You nearly killed us!’ Sarah screams at him. She’s like …’ He stops and looks round. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. ‘What do you want? What do you want from me?’ Newsome stops.’
.’ Behind him. striding towards the door.’ Saul says thoughtfully. ‘Like?’ ‘She’s like … an angel of death. and as hot as this room is. continue the experiment. Her voice is high-pitched and piercing.’ he says.’ His voice is high-pitched with excitement. I’ll do anything —’ Sarah’s lost it. coolly.’ Newsome shouts. They didn’t swap.’ ‘It wasn’t her last day. Her number’s the same. ‘This child changed her number – we have to find out what that means. ‘Let’s go again. please! Don’t do that to us again. Newsome included. do we? I think we should clear the room. I hold my breath. We’re all looking at him.’ ‘No! No. It hasn’t changed. ‘Start setting up the room. We stopped too early. his hand on the door handle. Please. ‘Damn! Why didn’t it work? We didn’t push it far enough. Saul. Sarah.’ Saul says. ‘You don’t need to do that. my blood runs cold. Saul?’ Newsome says.’ Newsome says. Is his secret out? ‘Yes. ‘No?’ he says.
. Do you think she sees numbers?’ ‘He’s not her father. like daughter.’ ‘Does she see numbers. almost convulsing. Two years ago … Sarah was already pregnant when I met her. How could I have forgotten? Mia’s not my daughter. Sarah. ‘Not her biological father. She’s shaking. Think about it. Another gap in my memory is suddenly filled. She doesn’t even know her numbers yet.’ Sarah sobs. Sarah?’ ‘No. It’s important. Like father. why would she?’ ‘Because of Adam. She’s only two. Anyway. Saul. I don’t know. ‘She’s just a little girl.She hugs Mia even tighter.’ I feel like the ground’s tipping underneath me.
’ ‘Do I have to remind you again whose project this is. And she can’t see numbers – she’s not like Adam. ‘Why does this matter? We’re only interested in the fact that she changed number.Chapter 29: Sarah It’s gone quiet now. but he’s not looking at my face. I wanted both – seeing numbers and changing them. His eyes dart from one person to another. ‘Think of her power. out of control.’ Saul shoots him a look. ‘Yes. Then I turn to Newsome. Happy now?’ I direct this at Saul. I want out. aren’t we? She can change. She can renew. ‘I’ve had quite enough of your interference.’ I’ve had enough. He’s thinking fast. ‘I’ve told you what you wanted to know. you can see it in his face. beyond any normal behaviour. Newsome. They don’t know what they want – but I do. she’s only done it once.’ ‘You wanted both?’ ‘We. These people are crazy. ‘And Saul’s right – she changed numbers once.’ Saul backtracks. Saul?’ Newsome sniffs. She can … live for ever. and everyone in the room is looking at
us. and finally end up on me. I meant we. She can’t see numbers. ‘I don’t get it. ‘But for some reason. Your experiment didn’t work.’ he murmurs. too.
. if she has both. He’s staring at Mia.’ Newsome says. cradled in my arms. that’s right.
I close my eyes for a second and breathe. trying to get a little energy into my bones.’ I open my eyes. ‘You’re the only father she’s ever known.’ I whisper. It’s a huge effort. and I’m taking my daughter. He thought he was her father. ‘we continue. I’ve got no strength at all.’ I squeeze my eyes tighter shut. it stops here for today.’ he says.’ He doesn’t react. ‘No. Newsome’s face darkens. I squeeze his arm. I don’t think he’s heard a single word I’ve said. and heave myself up. Saul’s a metre away from me now. He’s stepping
. They’ve been through enough.’ It’s Saul’s voice. Adam. Once I’m up. The baby inside me feels heavier than ever. He hadn’t remembered she wasn’t his biological daughter. I lean closer to him. bickering pair. It was one piece of the jigsaw his mind had put in the wrong place.We don’t know if she can change again. Newsome’s squashed face is a picture of angry confusion – and then Saul turns away from me towards him. It feels like it’s pressing on the top of my legs. stand firm against this unhinged. Newsome’s. ‘You’re the best father she could have. My stomach goes soft inside. who’s crouching next to me. but he stops spluttering and sweeps out of the room. The bump is sitting lower in my body. I need him to back me up. ‘No. I get my feet under me. But he’s not listening. I hear a voice. ‘And so. I lean against the wall. mouthing something. He’s gazing at Mia too – and he looks shocked to the core. stunned. I want to leave this place. but you’re not putting her through that again. but he carries on sitting there. are you with us?’ I turn to Adam. I want this nightmare to stop.
‘Take your hand off of her. I’m horrified. She clambers on to me. We’ll see how you are in the morning. We can arrange that. He puts his hand on top of Saul’s and his fingers shake as they try to peel Saul’s away. He touches my stomach. I’ve hated him from the moment he prised Mia’s eye open when she was hiding in my arms.’ Saul says.forward. I stare at his hand.’ He sighs.’ he says softly. Come along.’ ‘Then you need a little something to help you. taken aback at the venom in my voice. My knees nearly buckle with her weight. but then he drops it to his side.’ I snarl. and what’s happening now. ‘Get off me. You need a good night’s sleep. This guy’s given me the creeps ever since I first saw him.’ Why’s he being nice to me? What’s he trying to do? My brain can’t make the connection between what’s happened. shepherding me towards the door. his hand outstretched. I just can’t. ‘And sleep on the ground? In the mud? In the cold? I don’t think so. ‘I don’t want to go back there. can’t stand the contact. ‘I can’t sleep in this place. I just want to get out of here. Immediately I turn and reach out for Mia.’ His hand is on my arm now.’ he says. ‘No!’ He looks at me. I can’t stand it. My back’s against the wall – I’ve got nowhere to go.
. ‘you must be exhausted. ‘Sarah. For a second Saul’s hand grips a little tighter and I’m ready to scream.’ Adam’s on his feet now. ‘Let’s get you back to your room.
desperate and facing another long night. restraining him. I don’t want … I don’t need anything. ‘I said get your hand off of her.’ I glance sideways and Adam is bristling with energy. fingers. I’ve seen what these people are capable of. too. clutching his face. Now people are grabbing Adam. Didn’t you hear me?’ ‘Adam!’ His elbow flies back and then his fist flies forward. Please don’t!’ But it’s too late. He’s twitching – hands.‘No. I’m back in the place I dread. Please don’t. There are no human rights. shoulders. and they’re grabbing me. Before I know it. pulling us out of the room. don’t.
. But this time it’s different. I’ve seen him like this before and I know what’s coming next. They’ll take you away again. just to be out of here … Adam? Tell him. There are no rules here. ‘No. making sickening contact with Saul’s jaw. Adam. and Mia. Saul reels backwards. catching him off guard. It’s all about survival. face.
he wants extra powers too. I could tell him. We don’t know when the baby’s due. that’s why he was so hepped up when he heard about Newsome’s experiment. And my fists didn’t leave us any time to talk about it. He said it. and she’s never liked Saul. I knew what he was thinking. Saul’s time is running out. He weren’t thinking about Mia no more. Looking death in the face every single day. Not even a newborn baby. He wants to steal a life that doesn’t just give him extra years.
. then who?’ He thought it could be Mia. Real danger. Sarah’s not stupid. He can’t wait. Here I am again. didn’t he? ‘If not you. I should be sorry. Now he thinks he’s found what he wants. Knowing I can’t meet anyone without being forced to think about their last moment. he changed. I could say what it’s been like for me for the last eighteen years. Now I know as clear as day that Sarah and our baby are in danger.Chapter 30: Adam So Saul wants to see numbers. but Saul won’t wait. their suffering. but she don’t know what I know. But the minute he heard Sarah say that Mia wasn’t mine. If he asked me what it was
like. Adam. and he’s got less than forty-eight hours to find one. He could grab a random life but that’s not what he wants. Feeling people’s pain. When he stepped forward and put his hand on Sarah’s stomach.
I’ll see something. There’s got to be some way out of here and I can figure it out. I rest down on the floor. The bruises hurt. Fifty more. get us out of here … and kill Saul. but instead of blocking out the thoughts. I know I can. but I keep thinking about the people who aren’t here. and the danger they’re in. push with my arms. the feeling of missing them is a physical thing. Saul’s a monster. A pain behind my eyes. I walk from one side of the cell to the other. I’m frantic with terror and it hits me all over again that I’m the only one left of my family. I am sorry. and I’m still fresh. I brace my body. Fifty more. I want to be tired and I want to stop thinking. Somewhere? Nowhere? Suddenly my grief about them. I just have to stay alert. I got no one to turn to for advice. I’m going to. That’s better. They’ve gone. Sarah and Mia. Two and a half steps there.locked up. a tightening in my stomach. I don’t know where they are. Then. Then I drop to the floor and try some press-ups. lie there flat. I’m going to have to do this by myself. and I start to feel it in my arms.
. one cheek on the cold concrete. Fifty. but only that I didn’t finish the job properly. the exercise gives them a focus. with my head turned. I should have killed him. and I’m sweating. I’ve got to protect Sarah. there’ll be an opportunity. Will Adrian help us? I can’t help thinking he won’t – not in the end. I will kill him. Nan and Mum. Over and over. There’s nowhere to hide in this cell. Two and a half steps back again. but I grit my teeth and carry on. If I keep my wits about me.
He looks worked up. So sorry.’ ‘Thanks. unmoving. In less than two days I’ve seen her change from a bright. ‘But he couldn’t reply. ‘Is Adam back in solitary? Did you take the note to him.’ TLC. happy little girl to a frightened shell. ‘Yes.’ he says. She lies on the bed. I want to spit the letters back in her face. but doesn’t drink. She takes hold of the cup. What have we got to lose? Adrian brings us food and drink. I try to give Mia some milk. I bite my tongue. Is there any chance we can get out
. Too much surveillance. Adrian goes straight into the bathroom and turns on the shower. and I believe him. Since we
got back to the cell she’s been pale. Her heart rate’s good. The doctor runs through some routine checks. silent and dry-eyed. but I regret it when she’s gone. ‘They tried to kill us – how do you think we are?’ ‘I’m sorry. before?’ I say. a woman. I shrug. ‘Her temperature’s fine now. comes to check Mia. I haven’t had a chance to ask him until now.’ he says.Chapter 31: Sarah Another doctor. She just needs rest and some TLC. looking away. ‘Are you all right?’ he whispers underneath the sound of the water. I should have told her how it is. anyway.
they’re different. You look tired. I don’t want to let her out of my sight. It won’t be long. It doesn’t make any difference what I do or say. Well. I thought things were going to be different with this one. They’re saying they’re going to do an ultrasound on the baby.’ ‘Hang on in there. Mia starts to whimper when we get there. You should rest. ‘I know it’s tough. And if I see people leaving the room. I can get you a pill …?’ My legs are like jelly and I can feel the bags of skin sagging under my eyes.’ he says. then we’re going with them this time – there’s no way we’re getting shut in here again. too.’ It’s too long to wait. and soon she’s lying on the floor underneath the bed. ‘I don’t know if I can cope. I never had an ultrasound with Mia. scribbling away. She was my secret. The only thing they give in to is my insistence that Mia comes. though. ‘I won’t need a pill. I hate the thought of sleeping here. They give her crayons and paper again. wanting to see the baby inside me.
. ‘I need some time to plan.tonight?’ He shakes his head. that’s for sure – but not in a good way. I’m getting outside help. I kick up when I realise where they’re taking me the next morning – back to the room with the observation window. but a part of me is curious. but I can feel exhaustion creeping over me. Another night or two. they don’t seem interested in her. I hold her hand firmly. This morning. you know. I didn’t even have any help with the birth. I don’t want Newsome or any of his cronies anywhere near me or Mia ever again. stroking her fingers with my thumb.’ I say. A scan. Their attention is all on me.
’ I say. ‘You didn’t give a flying fuck about this baby yesterday. ‘That was … different. a duty of care. ‘I’ve never enjoyed sarcasm.And now Newsome is here. Newsome. sharp tone makes the breath catch in my throat.’ It’s Saul.’ Newsome tuts. I look at him warily. Have you seen a midwife?’ ‘Course not. ‘Any what?’ I snap. trying to keep his temper in check.’ he says.’ ‘You’re in no position to make demands. All I see is my own pinched face looking back at me.’ ‘My heart bleeds for you. He sighs. ‘Ante-natal care. And Mia. I want a woman. and then a voice comes through the speaker. but I know he’s there now. ‘You have a responsibility to this child. Watching. I’m not taking a lecture from him. I can’t help glancing towards the mirrored wall. ‘I don’t want you doing it. ‘Let’s just do this. It’s not easy.’ he says.’ I say.
. You nearly killed us both. shall we?’ ‘Not you.’ That does it. Behind the mirror. and his face flushes a deeper pink. I’ve been living rough. ‘Do what she says. ‘I’m trying to balance medicine and scientific enquiry here. ‘Have you had any ante-natal care?’ he asks. Its deep.’ he starts.’ He’s got the grace to look embarrassed.
’ I don’t know what she means. cross. There’s the heart. like she’s pleased she’s told me. its spine curled.’ she says. She lifts up my top and squeezes cold. That’ll be all – thank you. ‘That’s not important. eyes closed. the same one who checked Mia last night. arms in front.’ she says. ‘Baby twinkle. do we know what the estimated delivery date is? I can’t find it on the records. clear jelly onto my stomach. ‘Can you see. She nods firmly. the baby will like “Twinkle. ‘Try and relax. peering up at the grainy. ‘Everything seems fine. sliding it around.’ ‘No. pushing and tilting. She flicks the screen on and starts pressing a plastic gun-thing into my skin. ‘Any problems?’ It’s Saul’s voice again. ‘Yes. I’m coming back in. ‘Just lie back. Twinkle”. knees bent.’ Newsome’s voice cuts in.I want to get off the bed and get out of here.’ she says.’ she says. Can you see?’ I crane forward a little. The doctor shakes her head. Doctor Newsome. and I can. please. ‘Baby twinkle. standing on tiptoe.’
. The skin is stretched taut. face in profile. but someone’s putting a restricting hand on my arm. ‘We’ll have a picture soon. I look up and there’s a woman in a white coat. Mia?’ Mia’s out from underneath the bed. There’s a baby on screen. the spine.’ There’s a monitor on a trolley next to her. ‘Here we are. then she goes back underneath the bed with her crayons. black and white screen. There’s a hand.
’ he repeats. The way the baby’s presenting. I’ll be doing a Caesarian tomorrow …’ I watch his mouth open and shut. he stops talking. then at me. faintly. My brain stopped working after his first couple of sentences: ‘There’s no need to be alarmed but the ultrasound is showing that we need to deliver the baby early. At one point he leans forward and puts his hand on top of mine. I’m too stunned even to push it away. trying to make my voice strong. He pauses by the door. like a fleshy toad. ready to run if I’m shut in here again. What is it with people around here? Why do they think it’s okay to touch me? I pull my hand away roughly. but he ushers her out briskly. ‘I don’t understand. ‘I don’t want an operation. I look down at his hand on mine. He gets to his feet. a gesture of reassurance. his lips fold and unfold. ‘I don’t want this. the location of the placenta.’ ‘She meant that the foetus – baby – is alive now but there are other factors here. and through the gap I see someone lurking outside in the corridor.’ I say again. I struggle up. but I can’t make any sense of his words.
. Saul. Newsome’s talking. A Caesarian is the safest option.’ I say.’ I say. Eventually. sitting there. of course. She stays by my bedside as Newsome comes back in. And it’s as if I’m seeing it for the first time.’ The decision’s been made for me. quickly.’ ‘Do I have a choice?’ ‘It’s for the best. ‘The other doctor said that everything’s okay. ‘It’s for the best.The doctor looks up sharply.
He rubs his hands together.
. then claps Newsome on the back.‘I’ll see you in the morning. Behind him.’ Newsome says. The door closes. Saul’s eyes are glittering and dark.
’ ‘What? How do you know?’ He’s still grinning.’ When it suits. jittery.
. Nice and clean and safe. I promised I’d be there. you can have it exactly when it suits. ‘Something’s the matter and you’re not telling me. He’s edgy. That’s the beauty of a Caesarian. telling me stuff I should have been the first to know. I ignore his dig about Mia. Adam.’
Saul’s back. For real this time. She’s having a Caesarian. ‘Because that’s when she’s having the operation. like the cat that got the cream.’ Sarah.Chapter 32: Adam ‘I’ve come to pass on my congratulations.’ ‘Calm down. ‘I gotta be there.’ A Caesarian? That’s when they open you up and take the baby out of your stomach. She’s had her scan and everything’s looking good.’ ‘What operation? What’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing’s wrong. Saul.’ ‘There’s nothing the matter. ain’t it? They do that when things go wrong. but he’s also smiling. He’s loving this. She’s having the baby. and jump up. ‘What for?’ ‘You’re about to become a father. it’s not until tomorrow.
‘She needs me. ‘I’m not saying. He’s pretty relaxed considering I thumped him last time I saw him. ‘What would you do. his arms crossed.When it suits who? ‘Who’s decided this? Is it the doctors? Or Sarah? Or …?’ He don’t answer me. ‘I’m sorry. ‘What’s Mia’s number?’ he says. trying to choose my words carefully. I’ve got to.’
. ‘Would you give me your number?’ ‘You’re asking me things I can’t say yes to.’ ‘What’s Sarah’s?’ I shake my head. Maybe I’ll do it now. Adam? Would you tell me any number I wanted to know? Would you promise to help me find a good one?’ He pauses. I need to get back to Sarah.’ ‘Perhaps you should have thought about that before you attacked me. Saul. Anything. ‘You could …’ He’s laughing. I’m trying really. ‘I’ve got to see her. I’ll do anything. really hard to work out what I should do now. I shouldn’t have gone for you. but now I’m thinking I should've finished the job. Or maybe there’s a chance I can turn things round.’ I say slowly. please let me be there. But how? ‘Saul.’ He’s right.’ He’s leaning on the wall. but it ain’t easy in a room this size. He’s enjoying watching me squirm.’ I try to walk away from him. Saul. I should.
I’ll do it quickly. ‘Are you really ready to be a father.’ ‘That was … unfortunate. From Sarah and Mia and the baby. I feel stupid.’ ‘Empty threats. Adam.‘No. I can’t suck up to him any more.’ ‘So you make the decisions round here. A sacrifice for the greater good. almost before it began. It’s better for everyone this way. I’ve reminded him who’s in charge.’ The door slams and I slam into it.’ he sneers. Newsome over-reached himself.’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘Yes. He won’t do that again. hammering my fists on the rusty metal. Adam? I’d feel sorry for the child – if it survived. ‘Look at you. I’m the boss. ‘You bastard. but he’s ready. Empty threats. Saul! You leave my family alone!’
. ’cause of what had just happened to Mia and Sarah. ‘you shouldn’t. Don’t worry. He blocks me and uses my own momentum to throw me onto the floor.’ he says. I’ll do what I like …’ I launch myself at him. a boy fighting a man. with one parting shot.’ He’s back to looking smug again. It’s opened from outside and he’s through and out. It’ll all be over.’ ‘And it’s you who’s decided that my baby gets born tomorrow. I want to wipe that smarmy look off his face. ‘Stay away from them. He’s over by the door while I’m still scrambling to get up.’ ‘I was wound up.
taking comfort in knowing that Adrian’s on the case.
. The shower thunders into action. Could be very soon. ‘Why’s he doing this? He thought I was something he’d found on the bottom of his shoe before. hoping he’ll pick up on my meaning. We go straight to the bathroom. ‘I’m relying on other people. working her way through the box of toys. ‘Leave it all to me. But could be soon. and there are toys for Mia – it’s the box from the interview room.Chapter 33: Sarah There’s extra food in our room.’ he says. ‘What’s this?’ I ask Adrian. the covers on the bed have
been replaced by a duvet.’ He puts a hand on my shoulder – the contact feels welcome this time. Saul.’ I try not to mind when the door closes this time.’ I say slowly. What’s changed?’ Adrian doesn’t answer. ‘I’m trying to get everything you’ve asked for. ‘When?’ I whisper. as Mia sits on the floor.’ he says – and then I know we’re talking the same language. ‘Saul’s orders.’ he says. looking for the dolly. It all comes back to Saul. ‘Try and rest. ‘Nothing’s changed for me.
It’s a hunting knife. But there isn’t. The baby settles down. If only there was someone else here.’ he says. The bead of saliva swells and bursts.’ she says. She’s found the dolly again and she’s busy talking to it. He’s staring with the light of madness in his eyes.I get onto the bed and prop myself up on my side. I watch Mia with her toys. ‘Baby. I don’t understand what I’ve done. My stomach’s not exactly painful. the blade is curved. baby. with every cell in my body. why he’s like this. I hold my hand to the place where a knee or an elbow is pressing close to the surface. Ssshhh!’ The baby moves inside me. Instead. please don’t. lying it down and standing it up again.’ I’m begging him now. I believe him. The handle is some sort of bone or horn. ‘Please.
He’s panting like a dog. trickling down the side of his chin. he draws a knife. He doesn’t wipe it off. ‘I’ve done it before. If only I could run. It’s me and him. Begging for my life. He’s not listening. just really uncomfortable. twinkle. ‘Sleep.
. with a pillow cushioning my bump. I close my eyes. Me and him and his knife.
The guy with the tray’s got his hands full. And the only people doing that are the ones bringing my food and collecting my tray. I’d have one shot at it and one shot only. the ventilation hole in the ceiling is the width of my arm and there’s a grille bolted into it. then he sets the tray on my sleeping platform and walks out backwards so he’s facing me the whole time. I can’t tell by the food ’cause it’s always the same. That’d be the time to strike. It all depends on speed and surprise. I dunno what time it is. The only chance of escape is when people come in and out.Chapter 34: Adam The
walls are solid. then the one with the food appears. There’s always one with a gun outside who unlocks the door. so I reckon I could take him fairly easily. who shuts the door and locks it again. Saul hasn’t shown his face since he came to taunt me. trying to take in exactly what they do when they venture into my cell. He checks where I am in the room before he comes in. I could flip it into one guy’s face and barge him backwards into the other one. either. the floor is concrete. I haven’t seen Sarah’s squaddie. There’s a moment’s hesitation when they first open up. I reckon I’ll just have to go for it the next
. but he’ll be ready for me … unless I use the tray as a weapon. The door stays open so the whole business can be observed by the soldier outside with the key. I study the soldiers. The guy with the key won’t shoot me if his mate’s between him and me. with a hand each side of the tray.
I try pacing about. I perch on the edge of the bed like a coiled spring. like she’s breathing out all the chemicals they’ve been pumping into her. Once I start thinking about what might be happening my mind runs away with me. I wanna be ready. You’re dying. her eyes are sunk in her head. I’ve learnt that the hard way. She beckons me nearer. but no one will say it. Her breath smells. ‘What is it. but I’m using up precious energy. try and focus on Sarah. I close my eyes and try to remember Mum.’ ‘Relax. Adam? What’s wrong? You’re a bundle of nerves. I’m scared of how different she is. Where would you like to be right now? Where shall we go. I love her. Her face has changed shape. with that smug smile. I don’t want to hurt her with a clumsy elbow or knee. a shadow of who she used to be. It’s almost impossible to hold onto people once they’re gone. She’s slipping and sliding away from me. I make myself sit down again. I clamber carefully onto the bed. the two of us?’
She’s propped up in bed. I’d have nothing.’ What’s wrong? My world’s falling apart. And when I finally do. but that’s just mental torture. I’ve lost too many people to lose Sarah too. but you can’t stay in that position for long. If that’s taken away.time they come in. My need to stop him. I feel the adrenalin pulsing through my veins. and I know she loves me. You’re ill. And when I picture him. My need to protect the people I care about. I’m tense and twitchy. She puts her bony arm round me and rests her head on top of mine. I can’t get hold of her. Think of something lovely. the picture that comes to me isn’t the one I want. He’s the one who’s going to get me through this. So I shift my focus to Saul. Mum.
‘Is it sunny. It might as well be the other side of the world – Mum’s not able to get out of bed at the moment.’ ‘Only about half a mile to bloody walk then …’ ‘We’re not walking. I’m in a bare cell. but not too hot. let’s go on the beach first.’ Weston beach is only a few hundred metres down the road from our flat. then.’ ‘Wait for me. Except she wasn’t ever like anyone’s else’s mum: she was always funnier and crazier and better.For a second I can’t think. Truth is. on and on and on into the sea …
I open my eyes. I close my eyes again and I hear her voice and mine
. I’d rather go back in time – to when she was just a mum like anyone else’s. I don’t want to be anywhere with her like this.’ ‘Right. The tide’s in. alone. we’re running. I’ll beat you there …’ ‘No way! I’m already miles ahead. before she got sick. Why did she go? Why did she leave me? I got nothing left of her. Adam?’ ‘Yeah. ‘Let’s go to the beach. Mum. let alone stroll along to the prom. Mum. you’ve got to catch me …’ We run across the flat sand towards a line of gleaming silver breaking almost silently onto the shore. Hold my hand…’ ‘No.’ ‘Fancy an ice cream?’ ‘In a bit. I slow down on purpose until she grabs my shoulder – ‘Caught you!’ – and then we run hand in hand.
I don’t know. or anything. Maybe it makes him vulnerable.
. Maybe that makes him more dangerous. That’s what matters.mixed up – and we’re saying the same words. Just remember the love. he hasn’t learnt what really matters. the ones I read in the letter she wrote to me when she knew she was dying: If you start to forget what I looked like. I’ve still got her love. don’t worry. He just doesn’t get it. or sounded
like. No one and nothing could take that away from me. Not even death. However many lifetimes he’s lived through. It’s worth dying for. but I know that I’ve got it. And I’ve got people who I love now and who love me. That’s what matters. I’ve got love in my life and that’s something worth fighting for.
Remember the love. That’s what Saul doesn’t understand.
It’s happening again. grey metal. and it’s choking me. God help me. not reacting to my fear.
. I’m braced for another shock. pleading with mine.’ I say. He’s not seeing my terror. There’s a gag in my mouth. And then there’s a bang.Chapter 35: Sarah The blade is dull
– cold. There’s a racket outside in the corridor. Then the people are gone. ‘I don’t know what it is. Don’t kill me. and I believe him. more of them this time. The sound booms down the corridor. The first thing I think of is the Chaos. But I can’t say anything. I look round for Mia. The noise thuds in my ears. ‘Mummy?’ she says. ‘I’ve done it before …’ he says. two or three then a pause. and the alarm shrilling on and on. Only his eyes are strangely blank. The explosions start again.
I open my eyes in time to hear the next explosion. I’m looking at his eyes. An alarm starts ringing. for the room to turn upside-down. people brushing against the walls. Don’t cut me. He holds the tip against my skin. then another two or three. They come in groups. but it’s people. The corridor’s full again: thudding feet. She’s awake. shouts. It doesn’t mean a thing to him. clattering past our room.
‘I’m sorry. Adrian and I follow in his slipstream.’ he says.’
. and sets off against the flow. expecting others to get out of his way. Adrian scoops her up and I dig my old coat out from under the bed. We’ve just got to go.There’s so much noise I don’t hear the key in the lock. ‘Now. ‘Prisoner coming through. ‘Can you lead the way? We’ll head for the medical wing.’ I say. ‘I keep getting a stitch. I can see Mia’s face looking for me over Adrian’s shoulder. Sarah. ‘It’s got to be now. ‘To see Daddy. though. Soldiers are hurtling past in a never-ending stream of khaki. His uniform isn’t buttoned up properly and his hair is sticking up.’ The guard doesn’t question him. ‘I’ve got orders to evacuate these two further away from the entrance. I’ll carry Mia. ‘Adrian!’ I call out. He checks behind him and stops. I’m having trouble keeping up. then she disappears behind a sea of faces.’ I wrap Mia’s stripy blanket around her. The guard outside our room is still there.’ ‘What’s happening? What’s all the noise?’ ‘I can’t explain now.’ he barks. ‘Wait!’ he shouts at our escort. but suddenly Adrian’s in the room. Wrap her up and bring anything warm you can find. I can’t go very fast. The further I drop behind the more I’m getting bumped and barged by people coming the other way.’ Adrian says to him. who also stops. ‘Where going?’ she murmurs.’ I whisper. He hesitates in the doorway.
You’ll find the way without me. this way.’ ‘Yes.’ Adrian says.’ The soldier heads off at the double. ‘It’s the only other way out. but I’m puffing with the effort of keeping up. and puts Mia down. ‘This is where I say goodbye.’ Adrian says. all sorts. Sarah. ‘It’s a code 5. Just keep moving.’ ‘The stores?’ I’m trying to talk to him as we walk. And there’ll be someone to meet you at the other end.’ Our guard is pushing back past us. People have been coming in and out that way since the bunker’s been occupied. ‘You’d better put that coat on now. Then a voice booms along the corridor: ‘Code 5. Code 5.’ ‘What’s happening. ‘Bye. This time the floor shakes and everyone stops running for a second or two. Adrian? I don’t want to go to the medical wing. We watch him go and then Adrian says. He strokes her cheek. ‘We’re fine.’ ‘We’re not.’ ‘What does that mean?’ I ask Adrian. They start off in a corridor and then lead into a network of caves going right through the hill.’ We’ve turned into a side corridor now. medicines. sure. ‘We’re heading to the stores. Entrance 1 is a code 5.’ he says. get sorted out. We’ll go at your pace.’
. They get stuff from the stores. sweetheart. Walk in front of me.‘It’s okay. Come on.’ We’re nearly at the medical wing when there’s another volley of explosions. ‘You all right from here?’ he says. ‘It means this place is in trouble.
Suppose Mia gets so frightened she won’t walk. ‘Won’t you come a bit further?’ I say. I can’t carry her in this state. but not far.But I’m not ready to let him go yet.’
. Suppose there are more explosions. I ought to be back in post before they realise you’ve gone.’ ‘Okay. ‘Just a bit. Let me get my breath back.
Once. like car doors slamming. The light from the corridor outside shows army kit. dragging something behind him. I’m on my feet and ready to thump whoever’s coming in. so he has to come right in to the room to see me. Two bangs. I lean against the door and listen to the panic outside. Twice. Then the door opens. I stay silent. And the something he’s dragging into the cell is a body.Chapter 36: Adam The
concrete vibrates against my cheek. Then the noise comes. ‘Adam!’ A man calling my name – that’s odd. They don’t normally speak and the light normally flickers on before they come in.
. It feels like it’s inside my head. He turns to face me and his face widens to a grin underneath the dirty beard. but he’s shorter than most of the squaddies here and his hair’s tied in a pony tail. He’s hunched over. back pressed to the wall next to the door. After a while the sound of boots on concrete is gone. This ain’t no soldier. There are people running down the corridor. but the bell keeps on and on and on. By the time the crack of light widens into an oblong. officers yelling out orders. I sit up. That weren’t no car doors. an alarm ringing.
though. steps over the guard and pushes the door nearly to.’ ‘I gotta see her. Put this on. They won’t be looking at you – the focus will be somewhere else. It’s sick in here.‘Adam … Adam. Trust me. It’s a guard. The pockets are bulging. Yeah! We got to get Sarah. ‘I’ve come to get you out. Daniel.’ He hands me an army jacket.’ I point to my face. my supplier – Adrian. That’s all we need. yeah. the face that was on the telly in a million front rooms. We’ll meet them if we’re lucky. Someone else is helping Sarah. my contact here. ‘You can fill me in later.’ He looks grim.
. They’re after our baby. we’ll see them outside. I hold onto him for a minute. unconscious. slapping my back.’ ‘Adam. Daniel straightens up. There’s a knife and a torch and all sorts in there. I feel inside.’ ‘What are we waiting for?’ My answer comes in the form of a massive series of explosions. hardly believing he’s here. If not. ‘Let’s give it a minute. Then he finds me and wraps his arms round me in a man-hug. a sick place. You ready?’ ‘God. ‘Tie this scarf round. It’ll get you past a first glance. are you all right?’
‘Let me park this …’ I help him lug the body clear of the door. ‘This isn’t going to fool anyone.’ He holds his arm up to catch the light seeping in round the door and looks at his watch. it’s under control.
Sooner or later. destroy the place. ‘Where we goin’?’ ‘Same way I came in. We’re running with the herd to start with. and then I remember – three days ago Saul shot him in the leg. as I catch up.’ And then we’re off. ‘Not far now. I follow him. Adam. Try not to worry. I hope to God no one sees the cell door is open. Friends. Here we are. Daniel edges towards it. We’re okay – no one’s behind us.Immediately sirens start wailing and there’s the sound of running in the corridor again. Daniel’s limping. We couldn’t let you disappear. Adam. ‘I told you – we need you. and peers out.’ ‘I can’t believe you’re springing me.’ he says. Through the back door. We run for a few minutes – at the back of the pack – then Daniel slows. ‘Believe it. it’s the perfect diversion. checking over my shoulder. They may get in this time. a soldier and a woman and a girl. They must have heard
. ’cause it ain’t slowing him down much. ‘Fuck! What is that?’ ‘Friends.’ There’s another series of explosions and the whole place shakes. soldiers in front of us.’ We turn a corner into another corridor. But even if they don’t.’ ‘And Sarah?’ ‘She’ll be there too. Halfway down there are three people with their backs to us.’ I put my hand up and he meets it with a high five.’ he says. letting the soldiers ease ahead before he darts down a side turning. Must have just been a flesh wound. breaking into a jog. ‘Let’s go.
Daniel stops dead.’ I set Mia down. Here—’ He digs in his pocket and gives Sarah a torch. The soldier draws a gun from his belt.’ Adrian says. Sarah looks exhausted. At the end of it is a door. I locked it. Just as he lifts his arm to take aim Sarah shouts. but her eyes are blue as ever and they’re sparkling now. but I don’t think that was the plan. They spin round.’ We start walking away from him down the corridor. you just have to follow them. but you’ll be okay. But we’ve got to get through these caves first.’ ‘This place might not be here by then.’ he says. ‘I’m staying. or come out. see what the
. Are you coming. Safest place in England. Maybe more of our people have got in. Sarah looks past me.’ he says. I keep one arm round Sarah and reach down to her. though. ‘You’ll see them soon. ‘Now let’s get out of here. is that you? You’re alive! Oh. What would I do outside? Good luck. ‘Daniel. huge rings under her eyes. begging to be picked up. and I’m running to Sarah and Mia. Mia’s clinging to my legs. ‘Daddeee!’ Adrian relaxes and puts the gun away. It’s a bit tight in places. ‘Adam!’ and Mia screams. ‘I’ll still be here. ‘That’s not how I left it.’ We look at each other.us.’ Another explosion booms through the bunker. It’s open. I’ll see you in a couple of months. Where are Marty and Luke? Are they safe? ‘They’re fine. There are white marks on the wall. ‘Someone’s been in there. so I can go in with Daniel. ‘I’ve got a key. ‘No. Daniel. thank God. too?’ This to Adrian. She puts her hands round my neck and draws me down for a kiss.
I can smell the sharp whiff of fear coming from Adrian. ‘Do come in. ‘Leave him.’ ‘I’ve got to get back. ‘Welcome.problem is. can it? Daniel takes the gun away from Adrian’s neck and gives him a shove in the back of the ribs with it. Adrian walks into the room. But he’s already dodging back. Come in and
. An open door to an unguarded exit.’ Daniel follows him in.’ he says.’ Daniel says. ‘Adrian’s going to go first.’ Adrian says. leaning against a wall. head tilted to the ceiling. ‘It’s clear. eyes closed. It can’t be that easy.’ he snaps.’ But he’s pulled a gun on Adrian now. and he jumps out of his skin. Was that you?’ ‘No. Saul is standing in front of Daniel and Adrian and he’s holding a revolver. I freeze.’ ‘Come and look. ‘The door’s open. all of you. ‘Adrian. ‘Daniel. ‘Aren’t you?’ He walks him towards us.’ Even at this distance I can see his face is flushed. who’s still standing where we left him.’ he shouts. ‘There’s no one here. holding both hands up. I let Sarah and Mia go next and bring up the rear. There’s sweat trickling down the side of his face. We all freeze. Let’s just go. I don’t get what’s going on – I thought they were mates – but I’m not going to argue with Daniel in this mood. Daniel. ‘I didn’t do anything. running towards Adrian. The room beyond the door isn’t empty.’ I call. As they pass.
.shut the door.
. Even Mia. It’s not breaking the skin.’ he says turning his head my way and speaking through gritted teeth. ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses. ‘Adam. with rivets and old-fashioned locks. Adam. ‘You ratted on us. He’s aiming at Saul.’ Adam digs the knife tip in deeper. He twists his left arm and pulls it up his back making him squeal. As I swing it to. It’s a huge.Chapter 37: Sarah I turn round and grab the edge of the door.’ ‘Put the knife down. Sarah and me. thick
wooden thing. Adam suddenly lunges towards Adrian. ‘I’m s-s-sorry. but Adam’s holding him tight and he’s not letting go. We’ll catch up. Daniel. You betrayed us. His gun is still in his hand. His voice is staccato with fear.’ Saul cuts in. Soundproof. Yet.’ Adrian can only just get the words out. Your mate. Daniel’s standing next to them. we sidle further into the cave. thickly.’ Adam yanks Adrian’s arm further up his back. ‘You knew. draws out a knife and holds it at Adrian’s neck. ‘I d-d-didn’t have a-a-a choice.’ I squeeze Mia’s hand and start edging behind Adam. ‘start running. Mia and I are past them now and. keeping our backs to the wall. Adrian and Daniel. stop it! Stop it!’ I scream. Then he reaches into his pocket.’ he says. ‘Sarah.
‘You want me to kill him. Then it’s me and you. Saul. I just want this sideshow to be over with. silent apart from the sound of Mia and me shuffling along on the uneven stone floor and Adrian.’ Adam says. then.’ Adam says. I’ve seen him throw objects around and smash things up. but I never thought I’d see him threaten someone with a knife. and I’ll kill you too. It’s frightening seeing him like this but there’s something noble about him too. a sound of sheer animal terror. He’s defending Mia and me. Get rid of him.’ ‘Let him go then. ‘I don’t particularly want you to. Then Adam speaks. I’ve seen him hit people in a temper.you’re not going to use it. I can’t tell what’s going to happen next. the sinews in his hand taut like violin strings.’ ‘Keep moving.’ Saul says. ‘Kill him. Sarah. He’ll fight to the death for us.’
. but I don’t want Mia to see any more.’ he says. Looking at him now – with the hatred in his eyes. ‘You’re right. his breathing fast and loud. stay where you are. I ignore Saul and keep moving. ‘I can’t do it. I can’t do it.’ Adrian squeals.’ This is an Adam I haven’t seen before. We’re three or four metres away from them now. the vein in his neck pulsing with anger – I’m not sure he won’t use it.’ It’s silent for an achingly long time. I’ll kill him if I have to. Saul. Get rid of the hippy with the six shooter as well. panting like a dog. ‘I will use it. Sarah. ‘Go on. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other.’ ‘What?’ ‘Kill him.
Adam moves the knife away from Adrian’s throat. but the ear-splitting blast fills the cave. Daniel’s gun flies out of his hand. Adrian convulses where he stands and then folds forward. It’s only a tiny movement.
. I can’t. I follow the line of the rock wall. Adrian staggers forward.’ Saul says. I race deeper into the cave. ‘This is how you do it. I put my hand over Mia’s eyes and I start running. but I can. There’s another gunshot and another. arms flailing. ‘You can’t. He bends over clutching his wrist. I glance back.’ Still aiming the gun at Daniel. past the first white mark and on and on and on. echoing off the walls so if you couldn’t see the smoke coming from the barrel you wouldn’t know where the sound had come from. he squeezes the trigger. I don’t look back any more. dragging her with me. Saul moves the gun towards Adrian.
undo his belt buckle and pull the belt out through the loops.’ ‘What?’ ‘Just do it.’ Saul says.’ I drop the knife. carrying on with his task. ‘Saul. I do what he says.Chapter 38: Adam Adrian and
Daniel are both down. He’s very close to me. There is a way to save her. ‘Now take the hippy’s belt off. I haven’t even bought her much time. I can see his pulse throbbing in his neck. though. Saul kneels next to us and binds my hands to Daniel’s behind my back with the belt. ‘Put it down. Daniel yelps as Saul touches his wrist. ‘Sit back to back with him. As soon as he’s done here. I’ve failed to stop him.
. face in the dirt. I’ll bleed to death like this.’ Saul says. you will. squeezing his wrist. Daniel’s crouching on his haunches. his voice as cold as ice. I need to keep hold. won’t you?’ Saul says. please. Adrian’s lying on the floor.’ ‘Yes. trying to stop the flow of blood. he’s going to be chasing after Sarah. before you do yourself some harm. Adam.’ I duck down next to Daniel. ‘Gun beats knife.
He forces me to face him. I didn’t have the guts to kill him when I had the chance. He laughs and lets go of me. ‘I thought we were the same.’ I can’t help it.’ He tightens the belt until it digs into my skin. shutting him out. my gift.’ I say. Mia’s and Val’s? She’s the product of generations of gifted people. like I’ve let them down so many times. I let my girls down. What gifts do you think she’ll have? Yours and Sarah’s.’ he says. however it is that you do it. ‘—look into your eyes and reach inside. I screw my eyes up. ‘you don’t need to catch up with Sarah. if you promise to leave my family alone. do you? Your baby is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. but I do.’ I say. ‘You really don’t get it. Adam.’ ‘All I need to do is make contact. ‘Oh. I haven’t given up on you yet. Think what we could do if we worked together.’ he says. Why do you think your number will do when I can have hers? ‘Anyway. You’d give me your number?’ It’s the only thing left to me. You can see them through my eyes. I can’t kill you. ‘You want some more time.I could give Saul what he wants. pushing my head away from him. They’re yours. but his hand switches from my shoulder to my jaw. You don’t need to kill my baby. I wouldn’t stop you taking it. My life.’ He studies my face. Adam. ‘We are different. ‘Saul. I’ll give them to you. You haven’t
. but we’re not. ‘You want to see numbers. Instinctively I try to look away. like he was seeing it for the very first time. At least. ‘Yes. like this—’ he leans forward and grips my shoulder. I can do this for them and I will.
It’s being better than animals.’ ‘But it’s what life’s about. in a blinkered sort of way. Go on for ever. Adam?’ he says. You’ve got plenty of time to breed another one and another. One lifetime to live. But for his own warped reasons he’s choosing to keep
. neighbours. Something massive. I can have as many lives as I like. I’m begging you.’ ‘That’s old thinking. someone else dies. to persist. No point getting attached if they’re going to die after seventy years. ‘It’s having intelligence. Leave Sarah and the baby alone. to triumph. It’s being able to outwit nature. He’s an insanely dangerous man. ‘What about love. Saul. friends?’ ‘Not important.’ ‘Like what? Like someone who’s lived for two hundred and fifty years? Like someone who knows the score?’ ‘No. living together? What about families.’ I’ve known it all along. working together. you’re young. As many as you like.’ ‘What’s being human. Three score years and ten is over before it’s begun.’ he sneers. Don’t talk like that. You’ll learn.got the stomach for it at the moment. You get one chance to get it right. We’ll be like blood brothers – number brothers.’ ‘Like I said. ‘Stop it. I am begging. Saul? What about caring for other people.’ Maybe he’s right.’ ‘That’s how it is.’ ‘But every time you gain a life.’ ‘Please.’ I’ve got goosebumps on the back of my neck. Like someone who’s forgotten how to be human. but you’re young. But he’s missing something. ‘People come and go – you find that out when you go down the path I’ve chosen.
You’re beneath contempt. trying to shut me up. I’m out before we hit the stone. I’ll have to make him kill me. I’ve just got time to close my eyes and I keep them closed as the force of the impact carries me over. I can’t. And if you leave me here. He don’t know I have to do this. wind Saul up until he bursts with rage.me alive. what you are. then he slams the handle into the side of my head. ‘Stupid to think I’d ever help you. He don’t know what’s at stake. I can’t let it happen. Ever. I wouldn’t lower myself. ‘You’re the weakest.’ I say. And if I live. go further. He shrinks away from me. Saul. then my baby will die. almost as if I’d hit him. stupidest person I’ve ever met. ‘You really are stupid. I’ll escape and I’ll do everything I can to stop you. You’re—’ He picks up his gun and holds it by the barrel.’ Behind me. Never. what you’ve done. Daniel is tugging at my hands. dragging Daniel with me. I’ll tell everyone exactly who you are.
It’s the end of the stores. And then the lights run out. That carries on through a tunnel of rock about a metre wide and just taller than me. but not the end of the path. It looks like we’re heading for a blank wall. but she doesn’t have much choice. Mia is doing pretty well. there’s another mark on the rock. ‘Okay. The ceiling’s getting lower too. I’ve got an iron grip on her hand and I’m pulling her along. wet in places and very uneven.Chapter 39: Sarah I keep moving.’ I switch the torch on and train the beam ahead of us. Just when I start to wonder if we’re still on the right track. We’re managing a slow jog at best. Ahead. ‘All right. trying to make my voice more confident than I feel. Before long I get a sense of the walls closing in. ‘keep holding my hand. let’s stop for a minute. Mia.’ I say. there’s only a dense blanket of blackness. I can hear a murmur of voices behind me.
but the surface under our feet is rock. It’s going to be a bit dark here. There are boxes and crates piled high to one side of us and solid rock to the other. Each one is like a prize. There are lights at intervals along the path. The ceiling is way above our heads – this place is huge. The boxes and crates are only stacked one layer deep and you can see rock the other side.’ ‘Where Daddy?’
. Mia. They’re not obvious – you wouldn’t see them if you weren’t looking.
There are puddles on the floor and then we’re walking through a sheet of water one centimetre deep. There’s a hole in the rock on the left-hand side.’ I say. How long did Adrian say the tunnel was? Did he say? The space gets narrower. and my voice sounds like it belongs to someone else.’ ‘Good girl. I turn round and give her a proper hug.’ The roof is getting lower and lower. I can’t hear Adam or Saul any more. Mia.’ The only noise. Come on. about a metre high. but I twist round so I can still hold her hand. Darkness in front of us. to the left and right. ‘You’re being very good. with a white mark above it. Mia. keeping up. I shine the torch in front of us. trotting along. ‘I think this is it.‘He’s going to catch us up. ‘We’re nearly there. What the …? We’ve been set up. darkness behind us. Have you still got your blanket?’ ‘Ah-huh. I daren’t think too hard about it or I’ll panic.’ she says.’ I say. although I haven’t got the foggiest if that’s true or not. I shine the torch ahead and there’s a solid wall a couple of metres ahead. Mummy. then three. a million tonnes of earth and stone above our heads. ‘Stop a minute.’ ‘Dark. try and keep it out of the wet. It’s not so bad when I can walk standing up. but soon I have to crouch down. She’s quiet as a mouse. It’s a dead end. I go in front of Mia. apart from our voices. I think we go through there. We could
. We’re stuck like rats in a trap. walk with bent legs. Water drips from above us. is water dripping into water. up and down. that becomes two centimetres.
Keep going. I can feel it in my throat and my ears. I promise myself that I can do another minute. And so we go on. shall I? You follow me. hammering away. honey. the colossal weight pressing down.’ Mia. and I press on. What if the water gets deeper? What if the tunnel drops away? My heart’s going fast now. Something barges into my bottom. ‘Me not like it here. I’m paralysed.’ I put the torch in my mouth and lower myself down on all fours. Should we just go back? But there’s Saul and his gun. two. I’m not touching the rock above me but I can still feel it. Mia’s right behind me all the time. God knows what’s happening in that room. I’m doing this to keep her safe. I’ll go first. the ceiling rises away. I take the torch out of my mouth and pull myself up on the wall. My knees are sore. It’s up to my wrists. I’m going to have to go on my hands and knees. my hands and feet are numb with cold. and Adam and his knife.
‘You crouch down. but every little nudge reminds me why I’m here and spurs me on. three … At sixty. I can’t move. One. Mia. Mia puts an arm round my legs and leans her head on my
think about it. I crawl forwards a metre or two and then I freeze. so I start counting under my breath. soaking my knees and shins and feet. I can manage a minute like this. Stay close. It’d be irritating in any other circumstance. bumping into me with her head. At two hundred and seventy. She snaps me out of my panic.be the only people left in the world here. The water’s ice-cold. Time doesn’t seem to exist here.
thighs. It feels like I’ve been holding my breath for hours. We walk out of the standing water and into dry rock.’ We stand and gape for a few seconds. I gasp clammy air into my lungs.’ I say. thank God. Adrian said there’d be people here to meet us. The path starts to slope noticeably upwards. though. Look. We turn a corner and there it is – a soft grey lozenge of light ahead of us.’ she parrots. Then I play the torch beam along the wall. ‘This is it.’ ‘Nearly there. ‘Mia. A padlock dangles open and useless from one of its bars. Oh. We’re in an enormous cave. the sense of space is mind-blowing. I can’t turn to jelly now. ‘Come on. I shine the torch around and I can’t believe what I see. ‘We can hold hands now. A vast underground cavity – I’ve never seen anything like it. The air’s changing. Mia. I lean against the wall and try to calm down. after the tunnel. but he
. There’s a smoky undercurrent hitting the back of my throat. just a hint of something different. empty apart from a mass of stalactites clinging to the roof and their twins reaching up from the floor. too. Then there’s a softening of the darkness. I think we’re nearly there.’ The first sign that we’re near the surface is a change underfoot. ‘Wow. There’s a rusty metal gate across the entrance. We’ve got to get out and find somewhere to rest and hide. there’s one a few metres on. looking for white marks. After our cell.’ My legs start to shake. Sure enough. It’s only propped there.
How could he do that? I don’t understand. Mia.lied. I thought he was on our side.’ I pick my way through the gap and Mia follows. ‘Hello?’ I call out. I’ll never understand. to get us into the stores. ‘Here we go. She’s taken off and is running through the field. but I know it’s there. There’s no answer. She feels the release from our prison. because she runs in random. ‘Hello?’ Even outside the light is muted. ‘Come on. Everything’s shrouded in a grey haze. laughing as she runs. In my head I see him stroking Mia’s cheek. really breathe. the fog mixed up with woodsmoke. I can’t see any people. too. but the branches by the entrance have been broken back and the ground here is trampled. I try again. but Mia’s ahead of me. It feels like a huge weight’s been lifted off me. We’ve got no chance of hiding in an open field. but we’ve stepped out into a foggy world. Then I slide the gate back in place. But he sent us into the cave with Saul. crazy circles and comes back to me. and recently. I peer through the makeshift gate. I can breathe again. I can’t see the sky. The bramble patch is in a sloping field with layers of buildings beyond. hard lump in my throat. It must still be early. Wait for me!’ I can’t catch her. ‘Wait. didn’t he? He said what he had to. but there’s no sign of anyone the other side. Her tongue’s
. jumping over the molehills. People have been here. so we’d better make for the cover of the buildings and take it from there. but it’s okay. His betrayal sits like a cold.’ I say. I take hold of it and heave it to one side. We’re in the middle of a bramble patch.
the bridge that used to go across. ‘We’ll have to go back. But we haven’t got any choice. I can’t give up now. run. but the fresh air gives me new strength. a figure appears in the fog. the trail of dewy footprints we left heading away from the mouth of the tunnel.’ I feel a stab of anxiety at backtracking – so much wasted time. I tug on Mia’s hand. There’s an empty canal. Mia’s chip. We go up the path again and back along the cobbled street. It’s too big to be Adam. This place is so quiet that I hear the whine of the drone even though it’s still far in the distance. Is there any point running? Is there anywhere we can hide from the spy in the sky? Daniel’s mates in the forest had the right idea: shoot the bloody things down. run!’
. I can’t help glancing at the field we’ve come from. My legs are tired and shaky. Mia. Someone else has come through after us. a concrete channel three or four metres deep and three metres across. I take Mia’s hand and we walk to the edge of the field and on to the cobbled street beyond. I can’t just sit and wait to be caught.hanging out like a little dog and there’s a light in her eyes which has been missing for a long time. We pick our way over broken cobbles then follow a path between the houses. and at the bottom of it a metal structure lying at a sad angle. We stand on the edge looking down for a moment. Run.’ I say. The road slopes down towards the middle of the town. ‘Run. ‘We can’t get across this. As I look. Oh God. though.
pulling sensation and then Daniel’s free. Adam. His hand’s a bloody mess. This isn’t flat concrete. Can you tense your wrists. Saul and the gun. At least. We got out. He sits up and finds the torch in my pocket.’ My hands have gone numb. Where are we now? On some cliffs? In a cave? ‘Sarah?’ My voice echoes back to me. It’s either pitch black or I’ve gone blind. I open my eyes. I can feel the lumps and
bumps of the rock through my clothes and part of me relaxes. along with someone else’s. We got out of that prison and we’re back under the stars.’ Where the fuck am I? ‘Daniel?’ ‘We’re in the bunker.’ ‘Shit!’ ‘I’ve nearly got out of this belt. You’ve been out cold. and my hand finds hers. Me and the knife. Daniel.’ It all comes back to me. ‘Not Sarah. ‘How long’s he been gone?’ ‘About five minutes. I move my eyelids. but it don’t make no difference.Chapter 40: Adam The ground’s hard beneath me. I think I do. Saul’s got away.
. but I feel a tugging. I reach out for Sarah. Me bottling it. really tense them? I think I’m there.
You get started. I’ll follow you. Go.’ ‘Yeah.’ I haul myself up to a sitting position. He’s unconscious. Behind me.’ ‘Okay. that’s all. He’s got five minutes on you. I’ll fix myself up first. A stream of small stones and dust tips down from the ceiling a metre away from us. I won’t be far behind. There’s a bit where you have to crawl. ‘I’m out of here. You can catch them. have a look.’ ‘Can you manage?’ ‘Yeah. ‘I wasn’t expecting any more bombs.’ ‘No. Go on. But you must go after Sarah. another small torch and some keys in his jacket. Adam. this ain’t a great place to be if they’re blowing it up. heading away from the door. I might go back in there.’ I say.’ Another explosion sets my spine vibrating. mate. but it’s okay. Daniel shouts out.’ I double back and go through Adrian’s things. yeah. This one sounds more like a rumble.’ ‘There’s others in here might need a hand.’ ‘Just get out. But he don’t deserve to.’ He laughs weakly.’ I set off. ‘I need to stop this bleeding. ‘Daniel. Adam. I remember his number – he’ll live. you and me both. ‘I know. ‘Have you got your knife? Check Adrian’s pockets.’ ‘I’ve gotta go. Might take a while. I’ll see you later.‘I thought he’d killed you for a minute. That’s the second time that bastard’s shot me.’ he says. Daniel. There’s a phone. That’s either very good news or very bad. Follow the white dots. Thanks. I pocket the torch
. Daniel. Keep going. but still breathing.
I run past boxes and crates and bottles and buckets. Stuff that’s sat here for two years while outside people have been starving and suffering and freezing.
. Saul. There’s so much stuff here – food. I’ve got to get to them. you might find a use for these. saw this. but there’s one person in between. clothes.’ Then I leg it. ‘Here. What’s in my mind is that Sarah and Mia came this way. catch them up.and chuck the keys over towards Dan. medicine. I can’t think about that now. were here minutes ago.
Still holding hands.’ I shout. the stench hits me. run!’ I say and we do. but you can tell it used to be a beautiful place. It’s on our shoes now.Chapter 41: Sarah I want to make it a game for her. Two years later it’s the sort of place most people are still living in. Hold it up. Here and there the buildings remain intact. ‘Mia. Do it with your blanket. The cardboard boxes. It smells like a farmyard. Maybe we could stay here. We’re treading in it. She can feel my terror in the sweat oozing out of me. Her eyes are
. the plastic sheets. I grab the hem of my coat and hold it up to my face. But as we pick our way through. She’s caught my anxiety. standing like sound teeth in a mouthful of decay. Briefly I think about stopping. but I can’t. ‘do this. ‘Run. Instinctively I look down. the wads of newspaper are all sitting in a thin soup of human waste. from my hand to hers. streetlights lying at all angles like metal tree trunks. There are piles of rubble. I squeeze her hand even tighter.’ She doesn’t argue. She can smell it herself. lose ourselves in the crowd. The square in front of it is full of tents and makeshift shelters. we run past a big church with a great arched doorway. as fast as we can down a big sweeping road and into the city.
She nods and a frown creases the space between her eyebrows. Parts of it still are. The sort of place that was meant to make do for a few weeks until we all got back on our feet. the sort of refugee camp that sprang up in every city after the Chaos. I’m too scared.
‘Mum-my. Just hang on a minute. I pull up and gasp as the squeezing pain grips me. ‘Oh. I let Mia pull me past the last shelters.watering and red-rimmed. I know she hates it here – I do too – but right now I can’t move. Don’t!’ She twists her hand out of mine and starts running away
. No. but she digs in her heels so I’m practically dragging her along the ground. The pain’s nearly taken my breath away. I know. flapping her hands about.’ she says. We haven’t got time …’ I try to tug her away. ‘There’s no point whining. We’re nearly through the camp when I get a stitch. wetness soaking into it. She’s crying now.’ I try to breathe slowly and steadily. for goodness’ sake!’ She’s looking at it. Her precious blanket is lying in a puddle. Mia. ‘Mia! Stop it!’ ‘Mummy. dancing from foot to foot again. She stumbles and the blanket falls out of her hand onto the flagstones. We’ll have to leave it. and my words are no more than a whisper.’ Mia whines. no!’ She stops dancing and stamps. making the blue darker as we watch. But her foot catches in the trailing edge of her blanket. ‘Mummy. down the side of the church and on through the streets. ‘Mia. ‘I know. I stand still and lean forward. Mummy. ‘Mummy!’ she wails. but Mia tugs on my hand. my stomach muscles relax. come on.’ ‘No. run.’ I say. ‘In a minute. The pain eases away. She’s dancing from foot to foot on the spot.
She’s getting further away. ‘No.’ I mutter to myself. with trees either side of it. but I can’t manage more than a couple of steps before I get a stitch. The pavement is cobbled and slippery. It’s cold and wet – everything’s wet in this fog. And now I listen I realise there’s hardly any noise at all.’ I can’t see her. And now I get a tingling in the back of my head. I look ahead again. There’s nothing there. not here. It’s the only place on the street she could have gone. There’s a tall wall running down the right-hand side of the road. She’s running hell for leather down the street.from me. It’s open. The road’s empty. The sound of our feet is muffled by the fog. cradling my stomach with my hands. ‘Mia. It could be someone’s garden or yard. About halfway along I come to an iron gate. Where’s Mia? Where the hell is she? I pick up the pace.
. But she must have gone in here. Inside I can see bushes and trees and suddenly I’m overcome by a sense of dread. with branches reaching over the top. All I can see is a couple of hundred metres of empty street before the fog swallows it up. There’s a path. Still moving. ‘Mia!’ I shout. This city has a ghostly feel – it’s a place that’s had the life sucked out of it. away from the church. away from me. wait!’ She doesn’t turn round. I try to run too. a sense that I’m being followed. ‘Mia!’ Her back shouts defiance at me. ‘Come back here. I look over my shoulder. I put my hand on the metal latch.
squeezing. Why now? Why? I grasp the ironwork of the gate with both hands and lean into it. You can do this. Breathe.I’ve seen this before. I’m in labour. and I open my eyes and look through the gate. Dreams and reality are colliding. Like they did in the Chaos. There’s no one there. Mia’s gone and I have to go after her. It’s my nightmare.
There’s a face close to mine. I reach up to push the gate wider so I can follow her in.
My eyes are closed but I can still see trees. it’s spreading over and under my stomach. ‘Mia! Come back!’ I’m desperate now as I realise what’s happening. It’s evil. I’ve been here. trying to breathe my way through the pain. aching.
I can’t go into this place. It’s not just in one place now. I can feel the gravel underfoot. layers of dark trunks and stones like sentries in my mind’s eye. paralysing me. There’s a hand with a knife.
Breathe. like they did before. but the stitch is back. I know this place. The pain lessens a bit. It’s not a stitch – it’s a contraction. I close my eyes for a few seconds.
I feel like I’m buried already – the air’s so full of dust it gets stuck in my throat. more serious this time. All it picks out is a metre-wide circle of rock with a weaker circle outside that. Now there’s just the noise of my breath. The beam of torchlight moves about as I crawl. trying to filter the crap out of the air. swishing my hands and knees through the freezing water. so I can. The whole lot could come down. Everything else looks
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. My chest’s heaving. in and out. bouncing crazily on the rock wall next to my face. hear the noise. out through your mouth. too. desperate.Chapter 42: Adam Breathe. I’m crawling on my hands and knees with my torch in my mouth when I feel the vibration and.
In through your nose. when the numbers were crowding in on me. I put the torch back in my mouth and press on.
The noise dies away. breathe. in and out. Sarah and Mia must have done this. I take the torch out of my mouth and cover the bottom of my face with my hand.
There’s been another rockfall. and the sound of my blood thudding in my ears.
That’s what my mum taught me when it got too much for me. I’m choking. The boom of the explosion mixes with the rattle of falling stones dropping into water and onto me. It makes the whole place feel even smaller. I’d be buried here. a second or so later. breathe.
. like someone shoved it from inside and trampled it underfoot. buildings. This has got to be it. Something’s different here. There’s a metal gate flat on the ground in front of me. I start jogging.blacker. ‘Christ!’ For a moment my mind plays tricks on me. I belt up to it and burst out into the real world again. I can taste smoke on my tongue. My chest heaves as I suck the air in. growing down. all over the place. and I’ve got to get out of here. I’m in a gigantic mouth and the jaws are closing. like teeth sprouting up from the floor. Which way now? There’s a white mark on the wall. a hillside. and it’s picking up these weird shapes. concentrate the light on one of the weird shapes. one made up of little feet. I can just make out some shapes below. It ain’t moving. a city. glad to get out of the water. not a mouth. I can breathe in here. I ease up onto my feet. And leading down. three sets of footprints in the dew: two following a straight line. Sarah and Mia made it out. Light filters in from an open entrance. not just the space. It’s a cave. The ceiling’s five or six metres high and there are teeth there. I can run again. It’s difficult to work out where I am. A couple more minutes and then the bright circle of light isn’t near my ear any more. Now I’m upright and breathing. But Saul is on their tail. hasn’t it? I gotta be near the way out. clinging sort of fog. too. It’s foggy – a cold. Still on my hands and knees I grab the torch and shine it around. There’s brambles all round where the tunnel comes out and then a field. it’s way over to my right. almost like it don’t exist. I try to hold the torch steady. even though my knees are killing me. And I am.
I set off down the hill at a run.
For a few metres it’s gravel and trees and grass. How many have been buried here already? Does their sickness lurk in this turf? Does it hang in the droplets of fog that I’m breathing in now? ‘Mia!’ I spin round. I think of the camp we’ve just walked through. stumble in and set off along the path Mia must have taken.Chapter 43: Sarah ‘Mia! Mia!’
My voice reaches out into the fog. I’ve got to find Mia and I’ve got to get her out of here. kills it. I can’t make it out for a moment. The gravel crunches under my feet and I leave the path and walk through and round and over the graves. greyblack oblongs. deadens it. Gravestones. Trees and stones. Grey and black. A creature looms out of the fog. which flattens it. Everywhere’s the same. but as I get nearer I can see it’s not an animal and it’s not alive. Then other shapes appear among the tree trunks. an angel on top of a pedestal.
. Didn’t she hear or is she playing some kind of game? I shove open the gate. This is where most of those people will end up. the filth of it. It’s a winged figure. There’s no reply. a huge bird or something.
‘I’m here.’ I’m close to the spot where I saw the movement. Water drips from the branches onto the top of my head. Ahead of me. I want it to be Mia.The path leads uphill.
. Was she down there all the time? Did I plough my way past her? ‘Mia?’ The shape disappears again. I’m puffing now. Something low and dark flashes away from me. Something darting behind a gravestone. A drop trickles down the nape of my neck and I shiver. too tired. I’m too big. I can see you. It doesn’t seem to have enough oxygen in it. Mia? My hormone-addled brain registers a child who needs a mum. Quick and silent. A child calling out to its mother. Oh. back the way I’ve come. God. Stay there. ‘I’m here. I look right and left. ‘Mia! Mia. It could be Mia. ‘Mia. too slow. Where are you?’ Further down the hill.’ Two-tone. Mummy. she’s not there. sing-song. child-like. It was too big to be another rat.’ High-pitched. ducking behind a tree. I’m frightened. I’m coming. I catch a movement. visible now and then between the grave markers. A rat. please. I’m coming.’ I struggle up the hill but when I get to the stone. The fog sticks in my throat and my lungs. something’s moving in the mist. crouching low. Then a thin voice reaches me. ‘Mia?’ ‘Mum-my. where’s Mia? I can’t do this.
’ I say. the thing I can see in his eyes. more piercing than ever. It’s not a child. There’s someone there. placing my feet softly on the ground.’ He smiles again. He sits up. ‘Mum-my!’ It chills the blood in my veins. slowly. There’s no reply this time. back against the stone.’ he says.
‘She’s somewhere safe. He starts to move his lips. willing them not to make a noise.’ I say.‘Where are you?’ I call out. ‘Yes. ‘On your own?’ If he’s after Mia. One more step and I can see. He turns his head and looks at me. in heavy leather boots. Maybe it’s power. and I understand now. I won’t let him get her. Stay hidden. maybe it’s magic. ‘Saul. I draw level with the stone. He smiles. ‘Sarah. wherever you are. It’s a man. Someone sitting on the ground. two feet sticking out. stretches out his legs. I walk forward. There’s madness there.’ ‘Where’s that lovely girl?’
Where is she? Keep still. Mia. His eyes seem brighter. but something scuffles behind a gravestone in front of me to my left. knees drawn up. ‘Somewhere I won’t find her?’
. ‘It’s just me. but it’s something else too. mocking me. bigger than a child’s feet.
and mother to Violet and Isabel.’ The ache spreads from my back to my stomach. letting the beam pick out the words carved on the neighbouring stones.’ He shakes his head. My skin crawls. 1893–1911.’ But I only manage a couple of steps before I’m gasping with the pain.
‘I’ve got no business with you. Sarah. How did you know I was here?’ ‘I wasn’t far behind. At peace. and I had your lovely picture to help. Bernard McAllister.’ He reaches into his pocket and brings out a piece of paper. If I want to. ‘Have you forgotten?’ ‘Forgotten what?’ ‘She’s chipped. 1854. you and me.’ He moves his hand and flashes his torch into my eyes.‘That’s right.
Eliza Sansom. departed this world 19th February 1932. and I’m cursing myself too. Vulnerable. ‘I can send up a couple of drones. I can look for her myself. Saul springs to his feet.’ I say. Much loved wife to Rupert. Saul. putting his arm round my shoulder. 1943. laughing. My note to Adam. Saul?’ ‘We’ve got business. Another contraction’s on its way. I was a fool to trust anyone.’ He’s playing with the torch now. Hurting. He’s next to me in a second. ‘What’s this all about. Emily Barker. I don’t want him to see me like this. Taken by angels. d.’ ‘I’m not chipped. I curse Adrian in my head.
. ‘I’m going. ‘Don’t follow me. b. Sarah. ‘So helpful of you to draw me such a strong visual clue.’ He unfolds it.
He’s panting like a dog. He’s breathing almost as fast as I am.’ His eyes flick from side to side. Breathe. It was Saul.’ I say. I’m in labour. ‘Leave me alone. I don’t want him here. Powerless. ‘How long will it be?’ My breathing’s back under control now. He licks his lips. twitching. But I’m here. His face is close to mine.
He’s gripping my arms through my coat. for years and years. pinning them to my sides.’ The tiny muscles in his face are alive. I never wanted to feel like this again. The images I see match the pictures in my head.’ he says. but I can’t do a damned thing about it. This is how I felt at home. I can’t move either. but misses a small bead of saliva at the corner of his mouth. Of course it was Saul. but his isn’t. I can’t run anywhere. Keep breathing. What does he mean? ‘Sarah. trickling down the side of his chin. An hour.
Breathe. ‘Five minutes? Ten?’ ‘I don’t know. I can’t fight him. I’ll help you.’ ‘How long?’ he says. see the stubble pinpricks on his jaw. He doesn’t wipe it off.’ ‘An hour.’ I’m trapped. The pain eases. An hour maybe. and this twitchiness seems to be racing through his whole body. I can smell his sourness. Anger surges through me. My power taken away by a man. The bead of saliva swells and bursts. I don’t know. ‘I’ll do this on my own. ‘I don’t know if I can wait that long.‘It’s coming. isn’t it?’ he whispers. ‘an hour is a long time. That’s
. I can’t speak.
Please. Nothing’s solid. I’ll cut it out of you. ‘I don’t want your fucking help. my brothers. home. where are you? The ground’s dropping away all around me. ‘Get off me! Get off!’ He backs off. school. my baby. Saul’s pacing up and down. ‘I’m staying. maybe twenty centimetres. The pain’s got me again. The blade is long. running his index finger along the side of the blade. Nothing’s real. I hold on to the nearest gravestone and concentrate on my breathing.
‘I’ve done it before. Sarah. he smiles. Oh God. and Saul puts his knife away and grips me again. The handle looks like some sort of bone or horn. It’s a hunting knife.’ Maddeningly. His madness is written all over his face. I don’t want it and I don’t want you here. Adam. I gasp.why I left home. Sarah. Adam knew. I don’t want to hurt you.’
He reaches to his waist and draws a knife. or rather. please don’t … I’ve done it before. Nothing’s safe. but all the time he had me in his sights. I wish
. don’t you?’ I don’t know what to say. And if that baby’s not here in an hour. like a tiger in a cage. You believe me. That’s why he went for Saul when he touched my stomach. I want you to leave.’ he says. I thought he was after Mia. ‘but I like you. ‘Is it coming? Is it coming now?’ I can’t answer him. and slightly curved. I left everything. Another contraction starts. Saul.
’ he says. No!’ I spit and cough. I didn’t fight Dad – I was too scared of him – but I’m fighting now. but it’s hopeless. Saul.he was in a cage. He pulls the knife from my fingers and comes at me again.’ he says. ‘Bite on it. I hate them so much. over and over. Then he stops and looks directly at me. New life. What’s that got to do with him? He’s still pacing. I hate them. ‘No. pushing myself away from him. I’m scared of him. but the scarf’s there now and he’s pulling it tight behind my head. New life. ‘New life. I don’t feel the cuts. The pain’s blotted out by my anger. His fingers are in my mouth. They’re the same: Dad. He comes at me with the knife and I try to grab the blade. ‘Saul—?’ He springs forward and starts wrapping the scarf round my face. Fighting for my life. New life.’ And he reaches up to pull his scarf from round his neck.’ I’m twelve again. ‘this’ll hurt less if you keep still. forcing it open. Sarah. I scramble with my legs. I twist my head away from him. ‘Bite on it if you need to. He wrenches the blade away and throws
. Fighting for the life of my baby. Again I block him. ‘I haven’t got time. He catches me easily and sits on my legs.’ That’s all he says. stuffing material inside. ‘Keep still. scraping my back along the ground. Saul. really scared. I’m seeing the emptiness in Dad’s eyes as he holds me down.’ He shoves me down onto the grass and draws his knife again.
He’s poised and ready and just for a moment everything is still. or rather. He stares as another contraction takes hold of me. he can’t really do this. pulling it roughly down over my chin. ‘What is it?’ ‘It’s coming. easing off my legs for a minute. It isn’t happening. wraps his belt round them and ties it in a knot. naked terror in its place.it on the ground beside him. Then he’s back on top of me and the knife’s back in his hand.’ My words come out as muffled grunts. Please. please don’t. takes them behind me. leaving raw. Let me do it my way. You might cut the baby. untie my hands. Then he scrabbles at his belt buckle and rips his belt out of his trousers. Let me get on with it. almost calm. I think. it’s riskier.’ ‘It’s quicker my way. He’s pulled my top up and my joggers down. The need to push.’ ‘No. Easier. no.’
. Only he’s not looking at my face. ‘Please. watching as the skin on my belly tightens. ‘Saul! Get off me!’ The urgency in my grunts reaches him. tears trickling from the outside corners of my eyes and into my ears. The pain’s changing. the baby’s coming now. He grabs my wrists and. He tugs at my gag. there’s something else now. and he’s holding the knife to the bare skin of my stomach. the desire to push. He doesn’t have to cut me. It’s more painful lying down and I start to cry. There’s nothing else I can do. The anger’s ebbing away now. Untie me. Saul. The baby’s coming anyway. but he could read them in my eyes if he was looking.
‘let me hold her. Do you think I’m stupid?’ ‘For Christ’s sake. watching. and. then the other. I want to hold her.’ And then he stands up and starts walking away. but as he does so. The knot has loosened already and I wriggle one hand free.’ She’s got her eyes tight shut. I was alone last time. startled. I hold my arms forward.’ He looks up then. I wish I was now. you stupid bastard!’ Instinctively he raises his hand to slap me. He gets off my legs but he doesn’t move away.‘I’m not untying you.’ he says. I start breathing heavily. ‘It’s better if you don’t. Breathe. My baby. God. ‘easier for you that way. What do you think I’m going to do? I’m in labour. I try to move
. This can’t be happening. I can’t think about anything else. I wish Adam was here. I need to. I can’t think about him. I move my fingers. I’ve been lying on them so the feeling’s gone. No. strong girl. I can’t believe it. like he’d forgotten I was even there. He stands. Breathe. talking to himself.’ he says. ‘Saul.’ I say. Breathe. Saul’s holding the child. Is it blood from the baby or blood from me? ‘A girl. His hands are so covered in blood he could be wearing red gloves. crying her head off. grunting and growling with the pain and the need to push. That’s all I can do now. hand frozen in mid-air and stares. ‘A good. This isn’t how it was meant to be. He stops. My hands strain against the belt tying them together. fascinated. willing the life to come back into them. The baby’s crying.
but it’s impossible. I’m pinned to the ground with pain. There’s a lot of blood, more than when I had Mia. My stomach is still contracting. ‘Saul, what are doing? Where are you going?’ He doesn’t answer. ‘She needs me, Saul. She needs her mum. Don’t take her.’ I try to get to my feet, but the world turns red and then black behind my eyes and when I come to I’m lying face down. I look up and Saul’s thirty metres away. ‘Saul! Saul! Come back! Please!’ I’m on my hands and knees now, crawling across grass and leaves and gravel. And then another contraction stops me in my tracks. The afterbirth. I’d forgotten about that. The thing that nourished this baby. The thing my body doesn’t need any more. It’s coming out too. I can’t fight it. And now I know that I’ve got no chance of catching up with them. Saul’s taking my baby and I can’t stop him. I rest my forehead down on the gravel. I’m too tired, too desperate even to cry.
Chapter 44: Adam In the tunnel, I knew where Sarah and Mia had been. I was
following in their tracks, even though I couldn’t see an actual trail. Out here, it suddenly strikes me that they could be anywhere. There’s a whole world out here. I don’t think they’d have stayed in the field but when I start to get into the city, I feel even more hopeless. I try asking myself what they’d do. Find somewhere nearby to hide, or keep running? Look for a quiet corner, or go where there are people? Sarah was getting pretty slow on her feet, and Mia’s not the best walker in the world, so I reckon they’d both run out of steam fairly quickly. They could be in any of these buildings, or tucked away between piles of rubble. I half-walk, half-run through the ruined streets. You can still see that this place would have been beautiful. The stone is pale, almost like honey. It’s got a sort of light of its own, even in the fog. I’m in Bath. The place where my dad died, fell off a big church and broke his neck. He was fifteen, younger than I am now. Once I’d read about it in the press cuttings Nan kept, I looked it up on the net, saw pictures. Being here feels like an omen – like I’ve come to a place of death. I don’t want anyone else to die here. I want my girls to be all right. I start running more quickly, jumping over potholes and cracks in the road. There are abandoned cars everywhere. They could be in one of them. Do I stop and look in each
one? This is useless. I’m like a headless chicken. I need help. I need other people, people who may have seen them. There’s smoke mixing in with the fog, woodsmoke. It smells like every fire we made when we were camping out together and it fills me with memories of food, company, sitting with my arms round Sarah, watching the flames together until our eyelids went heavy. Fire means people. I follow the smell and come out into a big public square, next to a church. One half of the church has gone, but the front’s still there, a big doorway and a massive wall of stone dotted with holes where the windows used to be. The area in front is a sea of makeshift tents, a refugee city. There are fires going and people picking their way around or just sitting. I scan the scene. What were Sarah and Mia wearing? Is there any way I can pick them out? I start weaving my way through. The ground is wet and filthy. These people are sitting in filth. The whole place stinks. I can’t imagine Sarah stopping here unless she was desperate. But maybe she was … I go up to to a woman squatting by a fire, heating some water. Her hands are grey with dirt, her hair’s all matted and stiff. ‘Scuse me,’ I say. ‘Have you seen a woman and a little girl, a toddler?’ She looks at me and screws up her eyes, like she’s trying to work out if she knows me or not. Then she shakes her head. I carry on, looking at faces, stopping here and there to ask about Sarah. People are watching me now. There’s a buzz of talking and I can pick out my name being said. They recognise me. I’ve cursed my so-called fame for so long, but now I can use it. I’ve got an audience, if I can get them
to listen … I stand in the middle of the crowd and take a deep breath. ‘I’m Adam,’ I shout. A few people shout back, ‘Hello Adam!’ and there’s a ripple of applause. It takes me by surprise. I didn’t expect that. I don’t know what to do, how to react, so I just stand and listen, waiting until the noise dies down. ‘I need your help,’ I continue. ‘I’m looking for two people. A woman, not much shorter than me, she’s pregnant’ – I hold my arms out in front of me to illustrate – ‘nearly ready to pop, and a little girl. She’s only two, got curly blonde hair like a little angel. Are they here? Have you seen them? Has anyone seen them?’ There’s a lot of shaking of heads but then a woman’s voice pipes up. ‘There were two like that. They stopped for a minute, but then they went away.’ I spin round to see who’s speaking, but at that moment a door opens to the main archway in the church and a man comes out. He’s carrying a pair of buckets that steam gently in the cold air. A roar sweeps across the square, and people jump up and charge towards the church. The man sets his buckets down a couple of metres from the door and a queue forms as he starts ladling out something hot onto plates and bowls and anything else people bring him. ‘Wait! Wait a minute. Who saw her? Who was it?’ Whoever it was is lost in the feeding frenzy. I get swept along in the tide. The guy with the buckets seems to belong here, maybe he’ll know something, but I can’t get near enough to ask him. I’m trying to push through to him when my foot steps on something soft. I look down. It’s a blanket.
A blue and white stripy blanket, though the blue’s wet and dark and the white’s grey. It’s Mia’s. She was here. I’m in one corner of the square and there’s a road leading out. They either came into the square this way or this is where they left it. I leave the queue and head for the exit. No one minds me trying to go this way and I’m soon out of the crowd and into the side street. It’s empty, a long straight cobbled road, with the abbey on one side and a long, high wall on the other. The end of the street’s lost in fog, I can’t see what’s beyond. I start running. To my right, a branch dangles over the top of the wall, like swollen, knobbly fingers. Trees, I think. Trees in the middle of the city. There’s a gate in the wall, an ancient metal thing. I glance through as I run past. A path leads away from it, with trees and bushes either side. I’ve gone twenty or thirty metres before I skid to a halt. The place behind the gate. I’ve seen it before, at least I think I have. If I’m right, there should be stones there, too. Gravestones.
’ he spits out. There are footsteps. I’m too tired to open my eyes. but he lets her drop. Isn’t that enough?’ ‘She’s freezing. Give me my baby.Chapter 45: Sarah I’m not alone
any more. She’s no good to me and you know it. ‘No!’ I forget my pain. She nearly slips through my wet. ‘Give her to me. She’s naked and very cold.’
.’ He reaches forward and I think he’s going to hand her to me. ‘I’ve got your mess all over it anyway. bleeding fingers. You knew it all along. but somehow I manage to hold on to her and gather her safely in to my body. I can see his heavy black boots next to my face. ‘You’re a witch. I twist round and look up. feel the vibration through the ground. He’s holding the baby at arm’s length. you evil bitch?’ It’s Saul. ‘Have you got something to wrap her in? Can I have your coat?’ ‘No. like a rag doll. I can hear gravel crunching. You’ve hexed her. Slowly. ‘What have you done to her. He’s back. I have to keep her warm. Please. I force my eyes open. I haven’t got the strength to lift my head and see who it is.’ I don’t know what he’s talking about. Saul. you can’t. I find some energy from somewhere and my hands move to meet her.
eyes closed. all the noise. But her face looks so perfect. I wrap her up. She has eyelids.’ he says. She’s no good to me. Saul. not rounded. The area below is smooth. She’s no good to me. She’s so cold now. I don’t know what’s happened. He’s wrong.’ I whisper. I want her to see me and I want to see her. She’s no good to me because she has no eyes. There’s no gap between the eyelids. Saul’s right.’ ‘I didn’t. Only the top of her face is showing.’ It feels like my stomach’s falling away from the rest of me. Her lashes mark the line where the gap would be. Is it too late for her? Is this her first and last day? ‘Is she dying. Maybe she’s going to be okay. so still. I place my thumb above her eye socket and gently pull the skin. She has eyelashes. As I hold her. Sarah. I don’t know what you’re talking about …’ He crouches down beside us. Saul? Is she dead?’ I look up at him and there’s pure venom in his eyes. a bit of colour is starting to spread into her cheeks. But it doesn’t matter now. ‘I don’t know and I don’t care. ‘Look at your baby.’ I put the baby carefully on the ground next to me and slide out of my coat. My daughter has no eyes.’ ‘I don’t believe you. How can she sleep through this. ‘I didn’t do anything. but it’s solid. She’s warming up. her eyes so firmly shut.‘Give her your own coat then. I want her to open her eyes. ‘You fixed it so she’s no good. making sure her hands and feet are tucked in. I move my thumb down. I look at her again. not crying any more. Look at your precious girl.’
. round like a little apple. There’s no eyeball. being thrown about? ‘Hello. He’s got to be.
I need another one.’ I say. My daughter can’t be the same as this monster. Now. like he was before the baby was born.’ He fixes me with his eyes. so I’ll have to make do … with you.’ Swapping numbers.’ ‘You wanted to steal her number. It makes you feel … alive. He spreads his fingers out so he’s holding my head still.‘What did you want her for? Why did you do what you did?’ He frowns and looks at me like I’m stupid. You can steal numbers …’ ‘Steal is an unpleasant word. Her life. but that was another of your lies. Closer. His hands are red and sticky from my blood. the heel of his hands at my chin. another deceit. really alive. He’s excited. I don’t want him near me. Is he like Mia? Is Mia like him? Are they the same? They can’t be. sit still. And with Adam as her father. ‘Her number. Just like Mia.’ ‘Why today? Why now?’ ‘My number’s up. Can she? I thought you wanted Mia. each pimple and pockmark. He moves his face close. I’ve used up one life. I prefer swap. she’d bring me the gift of seeing numbers and who knows what else. dully. each pore. I don’t want
. I can see every detail. ‘I did when I thought she had Adam’s blood. his fingertips in my hair. Today’s the day. I’m completely defenceless. each little scar. you as her mother. Sarah. There’s nothing better than a newborn number. He cups my face. Closer. wasn’t it? But I’m running out of time. There’s nowhere to hide. and the bead of saliva is at the corner of his mouth again. Sarah.
him touching me. keeping my eyelids clamped shut.’ I hear leaves scrunching. the Sarah who struggled and kept three kids alive through two harsh winters. no.’ I screw them up tighter. ‘Look at me. ‘No. His pupils are dilated. pressing his thumbs into the skin above my eyelids. and his voice is no more than a whisper. Or maybe it’s me.’ he says. I lie where he
. I can’t. I’ll need your eyes open. or perhaps I just think I do. There’s still a remnant of the old Sarah.’ He snarls like an animal and then moves his hands on my face. ‘No.’ His eyes are locked into mine. The ground beneath me has disappeared and so have the trees above. Fuck off and leave me alone. Saul. He’s only a few centimetres away.’ I say. somewhere timeless and dark and empty. His eyes are just black and white now and however much I want to look away. Any energy I had left has gone. no. That’ll do nicely. My body jolts and my head slams backwards into the ground.’ he says. ‘Fuck off. forcing them open. I scream. ‘That’ll do. I close my eyes. ‘Open your eyes. ‘Forty-six years. Sarah. ‘No. Sarah. but I don’t watch him go. I look into his eyes and it’s like I’m falling. Saul lets go of my face and moves away. Sarah. the Sarah who left home and made a new life for herself. Look at me. There’s a flash of light and a pain as sharp as a hot wire slicing through my head. somewhere lonely and hopeless and cold. defenceless. Open them!’ I’m in pain. gravel scraping. I’m not there any more – I’m somewhere else. so cold. but not defeated yet. obscuring his irises. Goodbye.
‘Hello. He’s taken my life. it’s someone else’s. My voice is tiny. I sing and I watch her for as long as I can. Just one more time. It’s so sad. The words are still in my head. but there’s nothing I can do now. The baby’s lying beside me. It hits me then. I force my eyes open. But it’s not my voice. the baby will die.
. I can see the top of her head. her eyes. so desperately sad. She’s searching for me. taking in every little detail. her little nose. She must be hungry. I wish I had the strength to gather her in to me.’ My voice is hardly there. Only one of them is singing. She won’t get any milk from me. I follow them with my mind and they get louder again. I thought I might the moment I saw Saul’s knife. but the baby is quiet now. as the last of my strength saps away. At the sound of my voice. But she’s not asleep. She’s making a noise. My breathing is fast and shallow. There are two little faces in front of me. and then it’s not there at all. My baby’s learnt to sing. Except soothe her the only way I can. twinkle. now. little star. I’m going to die. Not crying. and then. she stops making her noise. And if I die. ‘Upper buv the wowd so high …’ What a beautiful thing. but now I know it. Perhaps she was sent to take me away from here. a whisper. She turns her head in my direction and then moves it from side to side. too. Two angels. an echo. face flopped against cold. but I draw in some air and I sing to her.’ I say. wet leaves. But I don’t. Perhaps she’s an angel. shut as though she were asleep. I like to think that she’s listening. Saul’s taken every scrap. ‘Twinkle. but gently testing out what her mouth and lungs can do. I want to see her again. I close my eyes and keep singing.left me.
She’s crouched down in the leaf mould next to the baby and she’s got her arm round her. ‘Mummy poorly. Your sister. Her eyes are the bluest blue.’ she says. ‘Yes.’ She leans in again and kisses me.’ she says again. This is our new baby. the thing that Saul did. Sweet because if I could have chosen anyone to spend my last moment with. Then she lifts her hand up. and now I lose
. just like mine.’ Mia leans over and rests her other arm on my leg. ‘So tired.’ ‘Love you. it would have been Mia. My eyes close. Mia. darling. Then she does that thing. Mia. ‘Just tired.’ I murmur. I don’t want to frighten her. ‘Mummy tired. I’d do anything to stay awake. It’s bright red. Mummy.’ My eyelids are sagging. She opens my right eye with her thumb. Adam used to say he could lose himself in that blue. I love you. It drove me mad. I love you and I love your sister. ‘Yes. but now we stare eye to eye and I know it’s the last I’ll see of her and it’s so bittersweet it hurts. Bitter because this is goodbye. ‘Mummy poorly.’ She stops. Baby twinkle. Anything. I love you. She used to do that sometimes when I was asleep in the morning and she wanted me to play with her.’ she says. But it’s too late. I’m going to have a little sleep now. ‘A baybee.‘Like a diemond in de sky …’ ‘Mia. darling.’ Mia says.
My golden child. but it’s a beautiful pain.’ There’s another noise now. she’s bathed in light. my mind and as I look into Mia’s eyes. Nothing matters. a pain which blocks out everything else. A golden glow around her. Blue’s meant to be a cold colour but this is a different blue – warm. Mummy. deep pools. Mia. into my toes and fingertips. something high-pitched and insistent. hopeful.myself in Mia.’ ‘Love you. comforting. The last thing I see are those deep. ‘Love you. my lungs.
. I can’t hold on any longer. They send their light through me and it brings pain too. my heart. my skin. But it doesn’t matter. It radiates through me.
and he stops. He’s running. her dream. There’s a line of dark trees by the entrance and a gravel path leading through them. I should leave Saul. I ain’t never seen him like this and there’s only one reason why he would be. I start running towards him.Chapter 46: Adam I’m running towards the gate when I hear a voice. I swing round and through the gateway and then I stop.’ he says. He’s evil in human flesh. Tall. He stole the number from my baby and now my baby has only got a few hours left to live. It’s a whoop of triumph. He
. He shouldn’t get away with this. He’s laughing. I should find Sarah. This is the place. dancing even. leaping. find our child. The noise is louder here and the whooping has turned into words. And it’s coming from the other side of the wall. ‘Yesssss! Yesssss!’ I don’t need to see him to know who it is. He don’t see me until I’m really close. He’s not going to. a great cry of victory. there are stones. flat slabs of standing stone. He done it. ‘Adam. but as I watch him capering about I can feel the blood boiling in my veins. And by the path. reaching
out to me through the fog. ‘the proud father!’ Then he sees the look on my face. but soon I catch my first glimpse of him between the trees. He done what he set out to do. I’ve stepped into Sarah’s picture. through the trees.
hear the crack as I make contact. He wraps his arm round the waist of a stone angel and fumbles at his belt. drawing his revolver with the other. I lift my head up and peer round. When I heave. He’s not going to get away this time. He dodges away and sets off running away from me. When I stop moving. a warm death full of love and light. It’s a peaceful death. hard stone and grass again. His new number. searching for his gun. I’ve got no answer for a gun. I roll over. He staggers backwards. ‘Adam!’ he splutters. And suddenly he leaps up.’ But there’s no calming me now. He’s clinging on to the statue with one hand. I try to get hold of him but I’m not quite there. The anger’s giving me speed I didn’t know I had. ‘You bastard!’ I launch myself at him again. ’cause I seen his number. and now I’m throwing myself out of the way as Saul and the statue plummet down towards me. The angel’s fallen
. I flinch as the gun goes off. My fingertips are touching his jacket. hands up to his face. I tear after him. I slam my head against his nose. I’m only a metre or two behind.don’t have time to draw his gun. Saul is lying awkwardly on his side. his legs come away from their perch and the angel starts to topple. then springs across the gap to land his other foot on the bottom of a monument. one foot on the pedestal of a tomb. 2572075. I don’t feel nothing. because I’m on him. It’s Sarah’s. but he’s ready this time. I lunge forward and yank at his ankles with both hands. ‘Calm down. spinning across soft grass. All I can do is get to him before he fires.
‘There’s a rat.’ he says. too. feeling its weight. He braces himself against the angel.’ he says. ‘What?’ He’s still thrashing his arms about. You know you won’t.across him. Sarah’s number stares at me. testing out my arms and legs. I catch a movement. Then I bend down and pick up his gun. They’re red. It’s near me. The gun’s lying a couple of metres away. Get me out of here. ‘Put the gun down and get me out of here. but his body will only move so far. ‘You won’t do it. pinning him down. The other leg’s bleeding from a small dark wound – the place where the bullet from his own gun went in. like he’s wearing scarlet gloves.’ I sit up carefully. grips it with both hands and tries to shift it. He tries to twist around.’ He flaps his arms at the dark space where his legs are trapped and for the first time I notice his hands. One of his legs is sticking out at the sort of angle a leg shouldn’t make. looking at it. I hold it in both hands. I stretch my arm out so there’s a line from my right eye to the barrel of the gun to Saul’s forehead. I’m okay. ‘Get away!
. ‘Whose blood is that?’ I ask. Saul’s seen it. Adam. It’s on me. I turn my head in time to see the wormy tail disappearing. His eyes are fixed on mine. For a moment he thinks I’m going to help. I get to my feet and take a step towards him. ‘Get this off me. It don’t move. ‘Adam!’ Saul yells. A shadow streaks across the ground and around the back of a grave. Out of the corner of my eye. My finger tightens on the trigger.
a lump or a heap on the ground. By the side of the bigger heap.What?’ ‘Whose blood have you got on your hands?’ He stops for a second and looks at his own fingers. his nose is bleeding. If they’re interested in Saul and his blood. sniffing the foggy air. I’ll leave you alone. before clambering down towards Saul. Adam. Shadows scatter to left and right as I blunder along. Adam. it’s two. I could shoot Saul. Then something else moves. Then he starts pleading. There’s another shape up ahead. reach down and scoop the baby up. ‘Mine. You broke my nose. I’ll give Sarah back her number. Saul. And then I turn and start running away. She’s
. It’s not one heap. It doesn’t explain his hands. But I think there’s something worse. There are rats there too. thrashing from side to side and I look again. it’s the baby. come back please. Adam!’ I run through the graves as his shouts turn to roars. I could kick his head in. Oh my God. I tuck Saul’s gun into my waistband. you bastard. that’s all. Just move the stone. It takes him a couple of seconds to realise what I’m doing. Don’t leave me here with them. moving.’ I say. ‘Rot in hell. for it to sink in. then Sarah needs me more than ever. There’s a dark stream dripping down to his mouth and a streak smeared across his face. there’s a small one. It only takes a few seconds before I’m there. gabbling the words out in desperation. ‘Adam.’ It’s true. He’s wiped it once. blurring the edges. shifting. a tiny bundle. The bundle’s making a noise. Rats shriek as I crunch them underfoot. A pale flash. darting. Another rat trots along the top of the angel’s wing and balances on the end.
’ I say to myself. but I’m drawn to the other heap on the ground. There’s nothing in the world I want to do more than look at my daughter now. Someone’s cut her. 1622029. but I kick at them and stamp on them until at last they thin out. Her legs are covered in blood. She’s got Mia’s. Adam. stare at her. There are rats swarming on her legs. Can you hear me?’ Her eyes flicker open. but not stone cold. I crouch down. but I can hardly bear to look. Her skin is pale as the marble slabs around her. She’s breathing.’ Saul’s roars are still ringing round the place and I think. Death in her eyes. ‘He did it. She hasn’t got Saul’s number. I lean in closer to her and hold my hand just in front of her open mouth. the flaps of skin either side. I keep hold of the baby and take Sarah’s hand in mine. ‘He did this to you. 2022054. They come back for more. It’s wet.
. She’s been cut with a knife. it isn’t enough. and I feel a flutter of hope.crying and her eyes are tight shut. I sweep them away with my feet. I turn it over and flinch at the vivid red lines across the palms. I don’t want to see it. Then my stomach flips and I stare and stare. take her in.’ I know she’s got Saul’s number. ‘Sarah. Am I too late to even say goodbye? My eyes run down over her body. Her hand is cold. It’s Sarah. whatever’s happening to him right now. She's alive. Her eyes are closed. ‘Sarah? Sarah? It’s me.
Can he see these colours too? Has someone flicked a switch somewhere and flushed the world through with light? ‘What colour am I?’ I say. He’s kneeling next to me. I can’t see ’em. ‘Sarah …’ he says.Chapter 47: Sarah I open my eyes and he’s there. confused. Adam’s staring at me like he’s never seen me before. I’ll tell you later. red and gold. ‘What is it? What’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing.’ He’s frowning. What colour am I?’ ‘I dunno. took my number and gave me his. my mind. ‘What?’ ‘I can see your colours now. You’re red and gold. like your nan always said. It’s the same.’ It’s me. I close my eyes and open them again. Saul looked into my eyes. ‘You’re alive. searching my eyes. but it’s Adam like
I’ve never seen him before. though. Mia was bathed in gold light and now the baby’s lying in a twinkling silver-white glow. I don’t understand. holding the baby.’ His eyes are locked on mine. And Mia looked again
. my eyes. And then I realise. It’s Adam. 1622029 – it flashed through my mind as he ripped my life out of me. Like Mia’s drawing. Thank God. There’s a light around him. so bright its purity almost hurts my eyes. Something’s changed in me.
’ I look at Adam. I think he’s going to cry. looking in front of us and behind. ‘I’ve got their number. ‘Can you sit up?’ he says. ‘It’d be better if you could stand. haven’t I. ‘What is it? What’s wrong?’
.’ He’s glancing over his shoulder. ‘Not really. So that must mean … I’ve got hers. ‘Can you do that standing up?’ Adam says. mouth open wide. always has. ‘Give her to me. I jerk it instinctively.and took his. ‘What is it?’ I say. expecting some sort of response. She’s moving her head to the left and right. I start to push my top up. through Val’s eyes. Our daughter’s hungry. filling the air with their noise. I know.’ I say. ‘I don’t know.’ I say. a smile. Adam wheels round and hits out. And everything that comes with it.’ For a moment. and I shuffle backwards and lean against a gravestone. The baby’s crying in his arms. something scratchy. Not far away someone’s shouting. tickly.’ ‘What has?’ But he won’t answer me. Then something moves on my leg. Adam. a loving gesture. ‘Don’t worry. ‘She’s hungry. ‘It’s okay. Val’s and Mia’s? That’s what you can see. You don’t need to say it.’ he says.’ He helps me. He hates to tell. He gently hands her over. getting ready to feed her. isn’t it? Isn’t it?’ He presses his lips together. ‘It’s gone. I try to prop myself up on my elbows. 2022054. I’m looking at the world through her eyes.
But there’s no sign of Mia anywhere. Before she gave me her number. I start to shiver violently. I look up. but I don’t want her getting cold. It’s me and her. doing what mothers and babies have done for the whole of time. Rats. Adam turns to look at me and the baby and we both speak at the same time. Animals scatter in all directions as the brushy twigs reach towards them. She latches on and even here. in a graveyard in the fog. Now we’re settled. but her little legs and feet are sticking out. It’s all right.’ ‘Adam. ‘Where’s Mia?’
. I don’t ask again. Her head is covered by my clothes. she could snuggle in too. our mouths mirroring each other’s. I wrap my coat round them. She was singing to me before I went to sleep. then what number has she got? She must have Saul’s. The baby knows what to do. I try and get comfortable. Adam’s got a huge branch in his hands. her suckling relaxes me.‘Nothing. She’s here somewhere. But I do now. what’s that noise?’ He looks at me and his eyes are haunted. It was so astonishing I didn’t take the next step. If Mia gave me her number. I could look at them for ever. Just now my mind stopped at the realisation that I’ve got Val’s number. He’s sweeping it across the ground in big semi-circles. Carry on. I bet Mia’s cold without her blanket.
She starts to howl. I can still hear him. but he’s not alone. My head’s saturated with noise – it’s making me deaf. His roar could split the sky. It fills my ears. squatting down. scraping her knee. I hurtle towards her but just before I get to her. as waves of rats fan out from her feet. He’s not dying … is he? I get nearer and the noise goes quieter. like this. Mia’s next to him. look into your eyes and reach inside. dodging and weaving.
‘No! No. whining. disconnected. He’s where I left him. I speed up.Chapter 48: Adam I leave Sarah the branch to defend herself with and I start
running. before today. But he’s changed. pleading. And then I see him. the ground is black with rats. she slips on a slimy stone and falls. but his voice is softer. trying to find the quickest route.
All I need to do is make contact. Around them. get away! Get away from him!’ Still touching Saul. Mia could be anywhere. It sounds like 1622029. ‘Daddee!’ She leaves Saul and starts running towards me. He’s talking to someone. Mia. She’s touching his face. He’s got a number that should never be his.
. He’s touching hers. He’s still roaring and it sounds like the noise I heard every time I looked in his eyes. but I’m drawn towards Saul. blotting out every other sound. Mia twists round. but it’s nothing compared to Saul’s noise now.
I need to get out. The girl’s tricked me. warmth and love. they’re eating me alive! Help me!’ ‘I can’t do it. It’s come back to him. fingers grasping at nothing. ‘Of course you can. There’s tears all over her face. like this was happening to someone else. Adam. She gave the sixteenth back to me. reaching out towards us.’ He’s not shouting any more. He’s got it. So Saul’s got …? ‘Come here! Come back!’ Saul bellows. But her number tells me something else. Saul. 2572075. It’s echoing round and round as his number shocks me over and over again. It’s not going to
. like an electric fence plugged into my brain. I look beyond Mia to where he’s writhing on the ground. He stops squirming and looks at me.’ I say. don’t you? But you have to. I reach Mia and she looks up at me from the ground. ‘You mean you won’t do it.I’m seeing everything like I wasn’t there. I need to …’ ‘You need to take my number or hers. 1622029. It’s all about happy endings. I’m watching the action unfold on a screen. her cheeks are streaked with blood and dirt – she’s a picture of distress. ‘Adam! Adam! Get me out of here! These things. but I can still hear the sound in my head. the number he had when I met him. I can’t get any purchase. She must have grabbed it back from Saul. but you can. Today. You can lift it enough for me to—’ He stops and his face changes. She’s got Sarah’s number. the number he tried to get rid of. ‘Adam.
I’ve felt it. I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ve got one daughter in my arms. Saul. I wipe her tears with my thumb. No one on your tail. don’t leave me. It tears at me with every step. ‘You’re killing me. but it don’t pull me back. ‘Let’s go and find Mum. Adam. I won’t hurt you. It’s the sound of reality catching up with him.happen. ‘I’m letting someone else live. Two hundred and fifty years coming to an end.’ ‘Not yours. another taking her first breaths on earth and a girl I’ve loved since the moment I saw her. Saul. I promise. Adam. then I’ll leave you alone. I won’t touch you. Help me find a good number. ‘It’s all right. Please! PLEASE!’ I turn around and I start running.’ He unleashes his animal roar. No one following you. Not yours. Adam.’ I bend down and pick up Mia.
. Saul – his twisted views. I promise. or if he ever did. shall we?’ I look at Saul one last time. I’ve seen it. I won’t make his mistakes. Don’t leave me here.’ I shout as I run. please. ‘Adam. You’ll be free to go. Adam. his cruel. There’s a rat crawling over his face. There are hundreds of people back there. You’re a murderer!’ ‘No. Adam. come back. selfish everlasting life – belongs in the past. I’d never hurt you. And now it’s coming true. he forgot it. We can help each other. She wraps her arms round my neck and her legs round my middle. I don’t think anyone’s ever held me that tight before.’ I say to her. No one’s gonna rescue him. Saul knew nothing about love.
I’m running towards the future.
colours of fire.’ ‘But her number. ‘Later. coming towards me through the stones.’ he says quietly. Won’t. ‘We’ll talk later. She’s clinging on to Adam as if her life depended on it. ‘Are you all right.’ The roaring cries in the fog go up a pitch. Her pale face is smudged with mud. And. they belong to me.’ She won’t let go of him.Chapter 49: Sarah Red and gold. covering her ear. turning into piercing screams. holding her closer.
. thank God. Her eyes are open. They look like they belong. What about her number?’ ‘It’s all right. ‘With Saul. Mia’s golden flame merges with Adam’s.’ he says.’ he says. traumatised. sweetheart? Come here. glassy. ‘What happened?’ He shakes his head. but they blend together. Adam. What on earth has she been through? What has she seen? ‘Where did you find her?’ He puts his hand on the side of her head. ‘Mia!’ I cry. can’t speak. ‘Her number’s good now. He may not be her biological dad.
But a few minutes later. ‘Yeah. isn’t it?’ I tip my head towards the noise. His colour is blue. Please stop now. They’re dazzling. And I know without a shadow of a doubt.’ The man crouches down. Their auras merge together in a rainbow haze. Adam draws Saul’s gun when we first see them. women as well as men. For a while the only sound is the rustle of rats. In the end he couldn’t escape his number. sweeping the branch around. ‘I’m Simon.’ Adam says. But it’s not uniformed soldiers we see emerging through the fog – it’s ordinary folk armed with pieces of wood or bits of railing or not armed at all. We’re sitting ducks. clinging to the branches above our heads. the wet leaves on the ground. ‘If you can walk. There’s a whole crowd of them.’ he says to me. I’d like to
. Then we hear the buzz of a drone overhead.’ he says. Make the noise stop. ‘This is Sarah. It brings me calmness and confidence before he’s even spoken. Mia gave it back.’ he says to Adam. but he soon puts it away. the silence is almost worse than the screams. ‘It’ll stop soon. then. It sits heavily in the fog. Adam keeps them away – stamping. He closes his eyes briefly and I know what he’s thinking. It came back to him. ‘You found them. and Mia. The guy at the front isn’t carrying any weapons and his pale-blue eyes light up when he sees the four of us. at least Mia and Adam are with their silicon Judases lodged under their skin. kicking. And this is our daughter.‘That’s him. too.
scorch marks in her golden flame. I can see that her light is flecked with strange dark spots. She helps me get cleaned up.’ Alona frowns. It’ll be safer for you all.’ I say. I’m remembering the sea of filth outside the abbey. ‘No. ‘Have you seen a baby like this before?’ She shakes her head. As we walk. We leave the graveyard the way we came in and turn into the cobbled street. She’s brought cotton sheets. wipes the blood and muck off the baby. then wraps her tightly in a sheet. She tells me she’s a midwife. but when we turn the corner into the abbey square. wraps bandages round my cut hands. Alona. ‘she hasn’t got …’ I glance at Adam. It’s a developmental thing. ‘Don’t look. and shelter.take you back to the abbey. and a soothing green presence.’ She puts a hand on my shoulder. away. but the child can be perfectly healthy otherwise. Everyone’s being so kind. ‘All her vital signs are very good. I carry the baby and Adam carries Mia. so that only her little face is showing. Adam moves to my other side and puts his arm round me.’ he says. Alona helps me to my feet. When we get nearer to the gate. Her silver-white light nearly takes my breath away. but it’s too late.’ And she is.’ One of the women comes forward. towels and clean clothes. I don’t know how to say I don’t want to camp there. including Simon. I lower my voice. Her face is like a little apple. but I’ve heard about cases. I’ve already seen the mass of rats. and she ushers the others. He’s looking after Mia and talking with Simon. We have food there. ‘She hasn’t got any eyes. tattered flesh and bare bone that is all that’s left of Saul. She’s a beautiful girl. I don’t see dirt and
. Close to. I beckon her nearer. I’m wobbly but I’m able to walk slowly. ‘The baby.
the very old and the ill. but leans over and tickles the baby’s face. ‘It’s for us. eyes blinking fast.
. The four of us cuddle up under a duvet. We’re ushered inside the church. Half the windows are missing and not all the walls are intact. but it’s a beautiful space. We’re taken to a smaller place within the church. Mia still clinging to Adam. no shouting or whooping. My spirits soar. My eyes have been opened to the world – I feel like I’m seeing it how it should be seen. It’s busy here. People bustle around fetching bedding and blankets.rubbish. Then we go inside. a ripple of applause breaks out in the crowd outside. a chapel I suppose. but I’ve got to. peachy cheek. He turns back briefly and waves to the crowd. even more wonderfully.’ He’s nervous now. but there’s an overriding sense of calm. It builds and builds. the baby in my arms.’ Adam says. She’s awake. ‘What is it?’ He doesn’t answer. just hundreds of people clapping. No fuss. they leave us alone. ‘I need to tell you something. pressing his lips together.’ I say. Someone brings us hot tea and then.’ ‘And I’ve got so much to tell you. He’s not uncomfortable with it. I see people in all their rich. As we go through the big studded door. gently teasing her round. he’s smiling. ‘I’m almost bursting. No cheering. and soon we’ve got a sort of nest. I don’t want to. Her face twitches in response and she moves her head against his finger. no bother. ‘What’s that for?’ I ask. We’re not the only ones here. colourful variety. I gotta do something first though. It’s almost like a hospital – the place is full of the very young.’ he says. away from everyone else. ‘Adam.
won’t she? It’s a tough old world. perhaps that’s a blessing. don’t hate her. And she’ll grow up loved. He couldn’t. She’ll have it tough. Course I am. I need to see … I need to see her number. ‘Not knowing. though. never hate her.’ ‘Yes. He’s frowning now.’ he says. ‘Don’t hate her. I don’t wanna but I know I got to. Sarah.’ I say. His face relaxes.’ ‘What?’ ‘She hasn’t got any eyes. ‘I’ll never know. ‘She is awake.’ ‘Is that okay? Are you okay with her?’ ‘Course. wanting me to encourage him and his face changes as he sees mine. It’s not a bad thing – it saved her life.’ ‘Like the rest of you. ‘I don’t hate her.’ ‘Just like the rest of us.’ He won’t look at me now. He screws up his eyes and I can’t tell what’s going on with him. he’s still staring at her. I don’t know the end. I could never. She’s still our daughter.’ The frown deepens. ‘She just can’t open her eyes. ‘Adam.‘What are you doing?’ I ask. The frown eases away. That’s why Saul didn’t take her number.’ he murmurs. ‘I can look at her and I’m the same.’ I say.’ he echoes. ‘Trying to wake her up.’ Then he runs his thumb gently across the place where her eyes should be. Adam. But at least she doesn’t have to bear the gifts Saul thought she’d have. Anger? Disgust? He stares at our baby’s face.
. but inside me I know.’ He glances up at me. I have to tell him. All I know is we’ve got today. ‘I won’t know her number.
’ he repeats.’ Adam takes the baby from me and holds her close.’ She pouts and looks at me from the corner of her eye. Here. spreading like stains. That’s beautiful. I look down at her profile. ‘It’s all right. Not the same as your mum. ‘Mia. She snuggles in and they look so content together. We could call her something else if you …’ ‘Gemma. Only if you think it’s okay. kiss Mia’s curly hair and bask in this moment. Mia. Sarah. this intimacy. curled up.’ ‘I wanna hold her.’ I say later. this peace. and I realise that the black spots in her golden glow are bigger. Her lips are moving. She’s stayed in Adam’s arms. England’s a harsh place now. They’ve stretched out. ‘Mia. Come here.’ Then he looks at me with tears in his eyes. ‘Adam.’ he says. Now. That’s all she needs.’ ‘You don’t need to thank me. Some things need saying.
.’ ‘I love you too. I can’t help thinking Adam’s right. ‘We’re safe. ‘Thank you Sarah.’ I say.’ ‘Yeah. shall we hold the baby?’ Mia still hasn’t said a word. Are we really safe? What on earth does the future hold for us? I shut those thoughts away. wondering what will bring her back to us. I put my arm round her little shoulders. I love you. For everything. I do. a little tribute. I want you. ‘Gemma. For Gemma. but I can’t hear what she’s saying. now. ‘we could call her Gemma. I look at her. I haven’t said things in the past and I regret it.Adam. I lean nearer. For Mia.’ Mia’s restless beside me. silent. but similar. She unwinds a little and lets Adam sit her down next to me.
‘Don’ leave me,’ she murmurs. ‘What’s that, sweetheart?’ ‘Don’ leave me.’ I kiss her face and hold her close. ‘We won’t leave you. We’ll never leave you again. You’re safe now. Everything’s okay.’ I rock her gently, singing under my breath. After a few minutes, her breathing has gone heavier, more even. I think she’s falling asleep, but when I peer down at her face, her eyes are wide open. She looks like she’ll never close them again.
Chapter 50: Adam Sarah whispers to me.
‘I’m worried about Mia.’ They’re cuddled up together, but Mia’s not asleep. She staring at nothing, her skin pale, her pupils wide. She looks like a little ghost. ‘She’ll be fine,’ I say, but they’re empty words. She’s seen things a two-year-old shouldn’t see. She’s done things no one should do. I feel that thing again – a shiver of fear. She’s a little girl now, but she won’t always be little. What’s her life going to be like? How the hell is she going to cope with this? How are we going to cope with her? ‘Do you think she knows what she did?’ I ask. ‘How can she?’ Sarah says. ‘She’s only two. It must have been instinct. She could see I was in a bad way and did what she could to help me.’ ‘And Saul?’ ‘Maybe she thought she was helping Saul too. He was shouting for help, I could hear him.’ I’d like to think this makes sense – and maybe it does. Mia’s such a generous girl. Her instinct is to help. I’d like to think it, because it’s way more comfortable than the alternative. That at some level she knew Saul’s number was bad and she gave it back to him to save her own skin. Is that what really happened? Did she beat him at his own game? The thought of it chills my bones.
‘How the hell do we deal with this? A girl who can change her fate? Change other people’s?’ ‘Maybe there are two of us,’ Sarah says quietly. ‘I’ve changed twice now.’ ‘Shit. Would you … could you …?’ ‘I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like something I did. It was like something that was done to me. I don’t know if I could.’ ‘What did it feel like?’ She breathes out, like she’s forcing all the air out of her lungs – a long breath, almost a sigh. ‘I only realised what was going on just before it happened. I feel so stupid, as if I’ve been going round with my eyes closed. The baby was no good to him. He dumped her and came after me. He was desperate then. He needed a new number and so he took mine. He got close to me, really close. I tried to look away but he forced my eye open and it felt like he put a hot wire into my soul. It was painful, physically painful. He was taking something from me, ripping it out of me. He was taking my life away.’ ‘Sarah—’ ‘I just felt what I was losing. All my energy, my will to live – he took it. And in that last second I saw his number, felt it. 1622029.’ She closes her eyes, screws them tight shut and when she opens them again her pupils are wide and there’s shock and fear in them. ‘I saw his death date, Adam, the number he was giving to me. I saw Mia’s too, when she gave it to me. I understand now, what you see every day.’ She twists around and puts her hand up to my cheek and there’s something so tender about it. It’s not pity – she knows how I feel now. She’s felt it too. ‘He took my life away, but Mia gave it back. She gave me her life, her number. She saved me, Adam.’
Mia’s still awake, her blond curls framing her face, her eyes blue and wide. She looks like an angel. And that’s what she is. She was Sarah’s guardian angel and she was Saul’s angel of death. ‘We have to be so careful with her,’ I say. ‘Bring her up right, whatever right is. If only Mum was alive, or Nan. If only we had some help.’ Sarah puts her finger to my lips. ‘If only’s no good. It’s no good, Adam. Your mum and your nan are here anyway. You and me, Mia and Gemma, we carry them around with us. They’re part of us. They’re in our hearts and minds and they always will be.’ ‘It’s not the same …’ ‘No, it’s not the same, but it’s what we’ve got. When we’re stuck, when this all gets too much, we need to look inside. The answers will be there.’ She’s speaking from the heart. She believes this. We can cope. We can do what we need to do. And listening to her, I’m starting to believe it too. I leave Sarah tucked up in her nest with the kids. I feel like my eyes are open, really open. The last time I felt like this was just before the Chaos. I knew back then I had to try and help people, get them out of London. But since then I been sticking my head in the sand, denying who I am, hoping the world would leave me alone. I can’t do that no more. I’m not sure what I can do, but I know where to start. I gotta find Daniel. I walk through the abbey and out into the yard. People notice me. Some of them try to shake my hand as I pass. I don’t blank them or pretend I haven’t noticed. I don’t look at the floor. When they call out to me, I stop, take the hand that’s offered, look them in the eye. I spend a moment with them, whatever their number’s telling me.
‘Where are you going?’ someone asks me. ‘I’m heading back to the bunker,’ I say. ‘I need to find my mate, the one who rescued me.’ People gather round. I recognise some of them from the graveyard. They want to come too. And instead of shrugging them off, I accept their help. So we walk together through the streets, past the heaps of rubble and tents and looted shops, and up towards the hill. Overhead, a drone tracks our progress. ‘Did you know about the bunker?’ I ask. ‘We knew. It was a badly-kept secret. That’s where half our supplies come from. Black market. And when people disappeared, the rumour is that’s where they were taken.’ ‘Did people often disappear?’ ‘If they started organising things, making a fuss, making trouble. If they were different. They were picked out. One minute they were there, the next they weren’t.’ The shouts in the night, the blood streaked on the walls. How many, I wonder? ‘Look!’ We’re at the bottom of the grassy slope now and there are people coming down the hill towards us. A straggly line of the walking wounded. One of the group with me gives a shout of recognition and starts running up the hill. When he reaches his man, they fling their arms round each other, holding tight without a word before they break into backslapping and excited conversation. ‘The disappeared are coming back,’ I say. I scan the faces coming towards me. Many are bruised or cut. Some people are limping, walking in twos or threes, supporting each other. Some are slow, confused. Others are wildly happy, birds set free from their cage. All of them are met with kind words and helping hands and shown the
she’s fine. and wait for the noise to subside. You’ve got to move away. Move away!’ he shouts to anyone within earshot. directing people down the hill. I wince. There’s a crash a couple of metres away from us. People near us start running and we set off too. ‘Adam. you’ve got to move away. ‘Is she okay?’ ‘Yeah. The last one out is Daniel. nothing to keep track of us. I curl up and tuck my head in as debris starts raining down. the line of people is picking itself up. ‘They blew up command control. She had the baby. shaking hands. I help Daniel onto his feet. Below us. We’ve only gone twenty metres or so when there’s a massive explosion. As people look back up the hill and start to realise what’s happened. a little girl. they high-five each other. When I look up there’s a drone lying on the ground next to us. ‘They got it.’ Daniel says. ‘Where’s Sarah?’ he says. so I walk up to the exit in the brambles and I join the welcoming committee. All I can do is wait. We’re in at the main entrance – we’re going for the communications centre. No more drones. His face lights up when he sees me.’ He breaks into a broad grin.’ We sit up. start whooping and hollering. The steady stream of refugees keeps on coming and I realise there’s no way I’ll be able to get into the bunker. Not until everyone who wants to has got out.way to the abbey. Daniel and I hit the deck. Everyone on the hill drops to the ground as dust and bits of rock shoot out of the tunnel over our heads. uncurling too. try to make myself smaller.
. no scanners. It’ll go up any minute now.
I want to help everyone. I wait for him to draw breath.’ ‘Of course.’ he says.’ He claps his good arm round my shoulders and we start walking towards the city. I’m sick of thinking about death.’ ‘Sooner the better.’ he says. ‘I was hoping you’d say that.‘Congratulations.’ ‘Not the way they wanted. I’ll get Carrie to bring them here. mate. what happened to him?’ ‘He’s gone.
. ‘It’s as good a place as any. ‘Yeah. I want to help people to live. are Marty and Luke really okay? I know what you said to Sarah.’ ‘Are you staying here?’ I ask. ‘And Saul. it’s time to help the body to heal. We can start here. ‘He had a nasty accident. ‘I gotta ask you. they’re fine.’ ‘I want to help. ‘We’ve got rid of the cancer. but …’ He’s still grinning. I don’t want to choose who to help and who to leave.’ I say.’ Daniel’s grin gets broader and then he tips his head back and lets out a ‘Yee-hawww!’ his voice joining the weird and wonderful chorus on the hill. He …’ I’m struggling to choose my words.
isn’t she?’ I say to Mia.’ He takes Gemma from me. rejecting my attempts to soothe her. I stand and watch. The stains on her aura are spreading. I don’t see them changing. I wriggle out of our nest and walk round the chapel. She doesn’t
want to feed. Adam’s been away for a while now. didn’t I? I’m sweating and uncomfortable. I coped with Mia on my own. She doesn’t react. I try talking to her gently. I should be able to do this. Simon pops his head around the archway. If he was here. I bounce Gemma in my arms. Her round face is scarlet. lips moving.Chapter 51: Sarah Gemma’s crying. She jerks her head from side to side.’ ‘Can I help?’ ‘You can try. ‘She’s noisy. Her aura is a mottled mess of gold and black. She doesn’t need changing. scraping my damp hair off my forehead. but her cries drown out my voice. She’s staring ahead blankly. ‘Everything all right?’ ‘She’s just crying. My frustration and panic are there in the way I’m moving. and singing. perhaps he could calm her down – I don’t seem to be able to help her. Mia stays put. only notice the difference when I look away and look back. She hasn’t even noticed the
. The day’s taking its toll now.
‘Mia. red. it’s a bad place. There’s something wrong with her. mumbling something only she can hear. ‘Baby wake up. don’t. I desperately want.’ I resume my pacing. cradling them both.’ ‘Of course …’ He hands Gemma back to me.’ I say again. Very.’ ‘Maybe this will help. She’s stuck somewhere. ‘Will you hold her?’ She doesn’t seem to have heard. but not with the vacant stare that’s been rattling me – she’s looking. very wrong.
. The aura around her head is inky black. Her face is screwed up. ‘Hold your hands out. firmly. She’s … she’s still in shock.’ she says. angry. A black halo. examining her sister’s face. but she turns her face towards her sister. Her lips are moving again. I’m sure she’s not really here. Leave her. She’s still crying. Better to wait until she’s quiet. really.’ ‘No. Wherever she is. putting my hands underneath. ‘do you want to hold your sister?’ Her eyes flick to mine. Mia. ‘I’ll get Alona.’ I say. A crying little sister’s no fun to hold.’ I say. I’m really scared. I need. I gently place Gemma in Mia’s arms. This time. Her pupils are huge. Gemma notices the change. to bring her back.change. but soundlessly. And suddenly. Mia stares at her. ‘Mia. watching Mia at the same time. She obeys me. but like a robot. She hasn’t got eyes like you and me. like they contain a world of pain. ‘She is awake. I kneel down next to her. She’s good with newborns. ‘What about her sister?’ ‘No.
Mia. arms round each other’s shoulders.’ ‘Do Twinkle. Mia looks up and beams.’ There’s noise drifting in from outside. Adam clatters into the chapel. Mia pokes at her face. a buzz of excitement rippling through the church. You can talk to her. but soon my voice fades and stops.’ she says. baby. Gemma’s sparkling light is moving up her arm. bleaching away the black stains. sweetie. not like that. Mia glances up at me. Pure gold. She can hear you. Can you sing to her? She’ll like that. ‘No. with Daniel in tow.’ ‘Hello. But I’m not going anywhere. Where the girls are holding hands. She loves it. Mia looks up at me and smiles. The moment the two touch. Gemma unwinds her fingers and grips onto Mia’s.
. ‘You’re her big sister.She’s got sleepy eyes. though. I’m transfixed by what’s going on with my two girls. Daniel’s hand is wrapped up but they’re both in high spirits. ‘Keep going. Gemma stops crying.’ We start singing. She wants to hear your voice. ‘You do it. their colours blend. Mia’s is becoming gold again. Mia’s aura is changing before my eyes. ‘Baby hold on. I’ll help.’ I say.’ Mia says. ‘She likes you. ‘How are my girls?’ Adam says.’ Mia says. Here …’ I move Mia’s hand so that it makes contact with Gemma’s little fist. Give her your finger to hold.
I can’t believe it. shining gold.’ I keep my voice low. ‘Mia. ‘Shh. something amazing’s happening.’ he says.’ I leave the girls sitting together and run over to him.’ he says. Hate the thought that’s come into my head. Mia’s becoming gold again. ‘but I think Gemma’s … cleaning it.’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘Adam. Her number’s the same. pulling me in.’ ‘She’s still got mine?’ ‘Yeah.’ I say. ‘I thought we’d be the ones looking out for her all the time. ‘What?’ I don’t know how to say it. I can feel his heart pounding in his
. Do you mind?’ he says. the darkness started to go. her blindness saved her.‘They’re fine. Pure.’ Adam puts his arm round me. ‘So Gemma’s got her own gift. ‘Is Gemma safe with her sister? Has Mia’s number changed? What if she’s so powerful she doesn’t need to see Gemma’s eyes to take her number?’ I have to know. Are you singing to Gemma? Did you make her stop crying?’ Mia looks up. He lets go of Daniel. Maybe she’s the most special of us all—’ I stop sharply. looking down at me and pulling me close again. Perhaps she’s stronger than we both thought. ‘It’s all right. ‘Baby like Twinkle. When she touched her. and a smile plays at the corners of his mouth. Her eyes are shiny with excitement.’ she says. Adam looks at the girls.’ He turns back to me. ‘Adam. ‘Mia’s aura was marked. but I know I have to ask. baby. Good girl. ‘Look at Daddy.
before the Chaos.’ ‘It’s the best number I’ve ever seen. He looks pained. I saw it in your notebook. I close my eyes and he whispers to me.’ I wipe his tears away with my fingers. our girls might have something to teach all of us. ‘I couldn’t ask for anything better for her. ‘It’s bathed in love and light. we’ll surround them with love. then cup his face with my hands. not even the children. no one else. His mouth is next to my ear.chest.’ he says quietly. His eyes are closed but a tear squeezes through his lashes and trickles down his face. slipping out of this life will be so calm for her. ‘It’s a good number. ‘This is the way it should be. Mia’s head is bathed in gold again. ‘You don’t have to answer. The only black spots are around her legs and they’re dissolving as I watch. ‘No. There has to be. Mia leans forward and lays her cheek against Gemma’s. so peaceful. and
. There’s anguish all over his face. Sarah. We’ll teach Mia to hold on to her number and Gemma can use her gifts to heal. ‘It’s your number. Who knows. Whatever happens to you and me. but just think what she might help us see. isn’t it?’ I say.’ His eyes flick open and more tears spill out.’ I turn away from Adam and look back at the girls. She hasn’t got eyes.’ I say. He holds me closer and for a moment it feels like it’s just me and him here.’ I open my eyes and tilt my head so I can see him. It should be yours. It’s the most beautiful end anyone could have. ‘What’s wrong?’ I say. Sarah. there’s a happy ending waiting for both of them. We’ll raise our family the best way we can. If she keeps it.
.the last pinpoints disappear.
. Her dad’s good at getting people to work together. People like it when he visits. It’s been a long day but a good one. She hears the boys’ raucous laughter. a house can grow from nothing in a few hours. She looks back at her drawing in the sand – a house and six people and a big sunshine in the sky above – and she traces some words underneath: HAPY EVA AFTA. Gemma’s properly dizzy now. have a home. Marty and Luke are playing with Gemma. standing with their arms round each other. She wants to stay put. somewhere they can all live together for ever and ever. She draws pictures in the sand
with her finger while the others run and chase in the evening sunshine. tries to right herself and careers off the other way. Behind them she can just see the patched-up roofs of the cottages and the bare rafters of the new houses being built. ‘Careful. The girl twists round to look at them. ‘That’s enough!’ her dad shouts. But she’s tired of travelling. She stumbles to one side. When lots of people work together. taking turns to swing her round.Epilogue – 2033 The girl sits on the beach. Not too much!’ Her mum’s voice carries across the beach from the sand-dune. That’s why they’ve moved around so much. She staggers drunkenly between the two of them.
‘Eugh. as the girl guides her in with her voice.’ They disentangle themselves and stand up. ‘My Mia. come here! Gem. this way!’ Gemma turns towards her and smiles. When she’s a metre away. you big lump! What would you do if I didn’t catch you?’ Gemma flings her head back and laughs. ‘Come here!’ Gemma weaves her way unevenly across the sand. joined at the hand like cut-out paper dolls. she launches herself forward towards the girl.
. ‘Shall we find Mum and Dad?’ ‘Yeh. ‘Gem. the laughter lines by her eyes. Their long shadows streak across the rippled surface of the sand. Mia and Gemma turn towards the dunes and set off walking. that was a wet one.’ And she kisses her full on the lips. The girl catches her and they tumble backwards in a heap of arms and legs. The boys are miles away now. arms held wide. then she moves her hands up to the girl’s face.’ she says. ‘Gemma. tracing the creases at the corner of her mouth.The girl calls out to her. ‘Mia. diving through the air. running towards the distant sea. Gemma. The girl wipes the saliva away. holding hands.’ she says.
The Frome Festival. School Library Service staff. especially work-friends at Keynsham Town Council and Bath & North East Somerset Council. Everyone at The Chicken House. and Ann and Dave in Jersey. who have done such a brilliant job. and for matchmaking. Rachel Leyshon and Chrissie. especially those who have looked after me in various countries – Anja and Hilke in Germany. Friends and family who have hosted. All the lovely people involved in translating my books and publishing them outside the UK. this time.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank everyone who has supported me during the writing of all three Numbers books: David. Ann and Peter in Spain. teachers and journalists I’ve met who are so busy promoting and celebrating reading. and Monique and Janetta in The Netherlands – and Elinor for making all this possible. for pointing me in the direction of the Frome Festival. Your reaction to my books
. And finally. The wonderful librarians. especially Mum and Dad. Friends who have taken an interest in my writing. Imogen. and encouraged my writing. for encouraging me through their short story competition. including Barry for all his wheeling and dealing. especially those who’ve written to me or come to see me speak. and especially. the readers.
has meant the world to me. Rachel Ward April 2011
Don’t close your eyes. Actually.From the Chicken House
Rachel Ward’s Numbers series has fascinated the world. Barry Cunningham Publisher
. That’s the secret – and it takes a rather terrifying last twist in this final book. it’s not about dying. the story of the teens that can see the date of your death has caught every reader’s imagination. From Brazil to Beijing. it’s about how to live with the knowledge.
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Text © Rachel Ward 2011 First paperback edition published in Great Britain in 2011 This electronic edition published in 2012 The Chicken House 2 Palmer Street Frome. All rights reserved. to be identified as the author of this work. No part of this text may be reproduced. electronic. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted or utilized in any form or by any means. or stored in or
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Table of Contents
Cover Title Page Chapter 1: February 2029 Chapter 2: Adam Chapter 3: Sarah Chapter 4: Adam Chapter 5: Sarah Chapter 6: Adam Chapter 7: Sarah Chapter 8: Adam Chapter 9: Sarah Chapter 10: Adam Chapter 11: Sarah Chapter 12: Adam Chapter 13: Sarah Chapter 14: Adam Chapter 15: Sarah Chapter 16: Adam Chapter 17: Sarah Chapter 18: Adam Chapter 19: Sarah Chapter 20: Adam Chapter 21: Sarah Chapter 22: Adam Chapter 23: Sarah Chapter 24: Adam Chapter 25: Sarah Chapter 26: Adam Chapter 27: Sarah Chapter 28: Adam Chapter 29: Sarah Chapter 30: Adam
Chapter 31: Sarah Chapter 32: Adam Chapter 33: Sarah Chapter 34: Adam Chapter 35: Sarah Chapter 36: Adam Chapter 37: Sarah Chapter 38: Adam Chapter 39: Sarah Chapter 40: Adam Chapter 41: Sarah Chapter 42: Adam Chapter 43: Sarah Chapter 44: Adam Chapter 45: Sarah Chapter 46: Adam Chapter 47: Sarah Chapter 48: Adam Chapter 49: Sarah Chapter 50: Adam Chapter 51: Sarah Epilogue – 2033 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Copyright