High on a Cornish moor… twenty-three ancient stones bent and twisted through time into a haphazard circle, poke from the mist like the gnarled teeth of a sleeping giant. On top of every stone stands a crow, each perfectly still, not a flutter or twitch among them. A whisper of breeze swirls the mist and all at once the crows take flight, charging the circle’s middle in a screeching mass of beak and claw. Bones crack, feathers fly and mangled bodies thump to the dewy grass until only a single crow remains. With blood on its head and a small black eye impaled on its beak the triumphant crow alights to the nearest stone, scrapes the eye off, gulps it down, then takes flight once more. It has a message to deliver, and like most ominous creatures it will enjoy sending some little hints that it’s on its way…
~ 1 ~
~ NO SERVICE ~
Tucked in a cosy little pocket on Cornwall’s south coast is the charming village of Mousehole, where tranquility sparkles on apple-gold water and the peace is about to be rudely shattered.
In the smallest bedroom of number seventeen, which overlooks the harbour, Kimi Nichols is sitting on her bed. She is staring at her left hand and has been for some time. She woke with it numb and the dull buzz of pins and needles. Her left hand is smaller than the right, slightly bent, and she can’t part her thumb from her fingers very far. Indentations, like grooves, run diagonally over the thumb and forefinger and again down the little finger. It doesn’t hurt or anything just looks a bit odd. Kimi even has a name for it: Little Hand. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d slept on her hand. I mean, everybody does now and again, right? Problem is, she’s been awake for more than hour, but the pins and needles won’t go. She gives it a rub and tries to move her fingers.
She startles. It’s Dad. “Yeah?”
“Your brekkie’s ready. Me and Mum are going soon. That meeting…remember?”
Kimi sensed skullduggery where that meeting was concerned. It was the way Dad announced it after tea last night – all nervous – like he was hiding a secret.
“Be right down.” She draws back the curtains and fills the room with yellow, ties her hair back, slips her mobile into the pocket of her penguin-patterned peejays, bids a good day to her animal skull collection which fills almost every shelf, then heads downstairs.
In the dining room, in faded jeans, equally faded green tee-shirt and with his hair gelled into spikes, Dad is dishing up Kimi’s favourite: beans on toast with a good blob of Marmite mixed in.
“Thanks,” Kimi said, tucking in.
“Hi,” Mum said, sat to Kimi’s right.
She looked pretty as usual; bright eyes, shiny hair, purple sweater, but she had a weird smile this morning. Probably too much tea. “Hi,” Kimi said with her mouth full.
Dad took his seat and flicked open the paper. “Nice?” He nodded to the breakfast.
Kimi swallowed. “Lovely thanks. Erm, what time’ll you be back from your erm…secret meeting?”
Dad’s eyes did a fidgety-flash. He lifted the paper and disappeared behind it. “Shouldn’t be too long,” he muttered.
“Don’t worry, lovely,” Mum said. “We’ll be back in plenty time for birthday shopping. Plenty time.”
She said all this with the weird smile firmly in place. Kimi couldn’t put a finger on it, but it was a smile that didn’t belong. “This meeting,” Kimi said. “I think I know where you’re going, and, well…can I come?”
Dad’s eyes peered over the paper. “Still on about the pink limo?”
Tomorrow, Kimi would be eleven. She dearly hoped they had booked the pink limo she’d hinted for at least a trillion times.
“Listen, Kimi,” Dad said. “This is a simple business meeting on the golf course and nothing at all to do with pink limousines. If you were getting a pink limo for your birthday, don’t you think it would have been booked weeks ago?”
He had a point. But still, he was hiding something. Kimi was sure of it. Little Hand tingled. The pins and needles weren’t letting up. She put her knife and fork down and gave it a rub. “Can’t you ring up and put it off ‘til Monday, Dad? I – I don’t want you to go.”
“We can’t. Haven’t got a number. All we got was this note left behind the bar in the clubhouse.” He took a piece of paper from his pocket and pushed it across the table.
JACK AND VALERIE NICHOLS
YOUR SOFTWARE EXPERTISE IS URGENTLY REQUIRED
WE PAY GENEROUSLY
BE AT THE FIRST HOLE AT PRECISELY 10 AM ON SATURDAY
(PS: DON’T BRING YOUR KID)
“That‘s just rude.” Kimi pushed the note back.
Mum laid a hand on Kimi’s arm. “But you knew we had this meeting.”
And there was that weird smile again. What was that film where aliens take over people and make them act all stupid? Kimi shuddered. “I – I don’t want you to go. Really, Mum, something doesn’t feel right. My hand – it’s -”
Mum rose slowly to her feet. “Oooh, I know what you mean,” she said, staring at the ceiling. The weird smile had vanished. “I’m getting a vibe. There’s something in the air, for sure.”
This was good news. Something always came of Mum’s vibes. One time, the fat bloke next door had a heart attack five minutes after she said he would and she saved his life. Another time, Mum scorched her angel cakes and might have burnt the house down if she hadn‘t vibed and got out of the bath. She was always sensing things. If Mum said a storm was brewing then a stor–
“There’s a storm brewing,” Mum said. “It’s best we stay right here.” She sat back down with a determined nod.
Kimi looked hopefully to Dad. His fingers were tapping the table.
“No! It’s a weird appointment, I admit. But I’ve a hunch we’d regret missing it.”
Kimi glared at him. “A hunch? What about Mum’s vibe?”
“Can’t I stay here, Jack?” Mum cut in. She had a forlorn look that Kimi thought might do the trick. She was good at forlorn was Mum.
“Nope, sorry, the note asks for us both.”
Mum folded her arms. “Well then I’m sorry too, Jack. I’ve a very bad feeling about this. We’re staying put.”
Dad appeared flustered. He looked to Kimi then back to Mum, and with piercing eyes said: “Before you know it, we’ll be back in a wiffy!”
Mum froze like a dummy and Kimi went icy cold. The pins and needles in Little Hand suddenly vanished. It felt like the room had paused for a second. But only for a second. Dad was zipping up his jacket and heading for the hall with the car keys dangling from his hand. Kimi jumped to her feet. “Stop!”
He stopped. “What?”
“What are you on about?”
“You said `wiffy` – it’s jiffy – back in a jiffy.”
He shrugged. “Wiffy – jiffy – whatever.”
“Ahhh, yes,” Mum said. “Back in a wiffy, yes.” She was wearing the stupid smile again.
“I’m sorry,” Kimi said. “But you two are acting bonkers.”
Dad glanced at the wall clock. “We need to be going.”
Mum sprang to her feet, grinning madly.
“But Mum, what about your vibe?”
She looked puzzled. “What vibe?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Don’t fret,” Dad said. “You’ll be back in a wiffy!”
“Huh? Me? Don’t you mean, you? You’re not making any sense. And quit with the wiffy thing!”
“Ah, of course, how silly of me – we’ll be back in a wiffy – your Mum and me, yes.”
Kimi couldn’t find the words.
Mum came and kissed her on the nose. “Bye, my lovely.” She gave her a squeeze.
“But Mum, you said a storm was brewing.”
“Stop worrying, Kimi. Slightest sign of a storm and we’ll be in the clubhouse.” She kissed her again on top of the head.
Dad bustled Mum into the hall and Kimi followed. “Why aren’t you listening to Mum’s vibe?”
Now he was pushing Mum out the front door.
“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Kimi shouted. “I’m not stupid you know. What’s the big secret?”
Dad rushed back inside, pushed the door closed and strode up to Kimi with purpose. His hands landed on her shoulders and gripped firmly. Their eyes locked. “Let’s say there is a secret. A blooming great whopper. And in less than thirty minutes you will know all about it!”
Kimi’s breath caught. “Really?”
“Is this one of your birthday games?”
“No,” he said, his eyes woefully wide.
A feeling of darkness dropped upon Kimi as if a thick, black umbrella had closed over her head. Little Hand gave one almighty throb and the pins and needles returned. The tiny hairs on the nape of her neck bristled and prickled and pulled her in two with a shudder. A scatter of wing beats rushed through her ears then vanished. She swallowed the lump from her throat. “Dad, it’s – it’s – I think – well, I think I’m having my first vibe. I – I don’t know what to do.”
He did not even blink. “Trust me, sweetheart. I need you to stay here and figure things out. Can you do that for me?”
“Figure what out? I – I’m meant to be doing my homework and – ”
“Forget your homework.” His hands slid from her shoulders and gripped her upper arms. “Get this right, and you will never have to do homework ever again. Can you do this, Kimi?”
Kimi laughed. A nervous laugh.
“Answer me!” He was shaking her.
“You’re scaring me, Dad.”
His grip relaxed. He kissed her forehead. “I really must go.” He went to the front door, paused, looked back. “You’ll get through this,” he said, before turning away and stepping outside with what Kimi was certain was a tear in his eye.
The door pulled shut.
Car doors opened and closed.
The engine hummed to life then faded through Mousehole’s narrow streets.
They were gone.
Kimi was cold and shaking. Little Hand felt like a pin cushion. Was this how vibes made you feel? Mum always said that one day she might get a sense for these things, too. Kimi returned to the dining room. The radio whined like a cat then crackled with static. Outside, wind surged, throwing leaves and litter at the patio doors. Kimi stepped back. The gulls were growing in number, getting louder. Then she noticed something. The hundreds of gulls that filled the air above the harbour were parting down the middle like a giant zipper. Through the growing V shape to the clear blue sky beyond, a spec of black, moving black, beating wings black, was coming this way.
Vibe – or imagination?
A glistening black dart swooping down into the harbour.
She did always get giddy around the time of her birthday.
The seagulls dispersed in an explosion of white.
So maybe that was it.
Raggedy black. Faster, closer.
Or maybe it wasn’t.
Great black wings heading straight for the patio doors.
Kimi ran to the doors and crouched. Through the glass, a bundle of black feathers was straightening itself up. It was a crow, looking stunned and kind of rocking on its feet. She reached up and opened a door. “Poor thing. Are you all right?” The crow stared at her. She considered getting it some bread but had no time to act. The crow hissed and leapt forward, wings flapping. She shut the door fast and the crow thumped into the pane for a second time. It clawed at the glass and hammered with its beak. There was blood on its head and nothing but black in its empty eyes. Kimi gripped the door handles and was about to scream for help when the crow backed off. It stared for a moment, gave one final hiss, then turned and fluttered over the lane to the harbour railings where it settled, facing the house. No longer feeling cold, Kimi carefully opened a door and poked her head out.
The crow cawed and ruffled its wings.
Then it spoke…
The words were screechy, but Kimi was certain that’s what it had said.
“One…death…today…” the crow repeated, before lifting off backwards and tumbling away over the harbour, diminishing quickly to a black spec over the sea.
Kimi ran up the path trying to keep sight of the crow – but it was gone, and so had the sunshine. Heavy grey clouds were rolling in from nowhere, casting the harbour into shadow. Across the bay in Penzance, clouds as black as night moved in on the headland, right above where the golf course was situated. Kimi hurried back inside, stopping only to pick up a long, black feather. She quickly closed the patio doors behind her.
Thunder rumbled, the room darkened, and rain began spitting on the windows. Outside, a hunched old lady hurried past in a swirl of leaves. Kimi told herself that crows can’t talk and that she was probably imagining things. She looked at the stiff feather and bent and crumpled it tight inside her good hand. A barrage of thunder made her shriek. She thought of Mum and Dad. The clock said it was almost ten. The mystery client would be appearing at the first hole. She returned to the patio doors where rain pattered and trickled and leant her head to the glass. The pulse in her temple tapped dully against it. Across the bay, tails of black cloud trailed so low they seemed to touch the headland. Lightning blinked within the clouds and thunder grumbled. She tried to imagine Mum and Dad, safe in the clubhouse, but could not shift her gaze from the blackening sky.
The rain pattered to a stop.
The radio crackled and died.
The hairs on her neck stood to attention.
Little Hand gave one great pounding throb.
And right at the spot she was staring, a brilliant blue lightning bolt ripped from the sky, splitting the blackness into two jagged halves. Kimi screamed and jumped back. A series of massive bangs followed and the house vibrated around her. Windowpanes rattled in their frames and light fittings danced and jangled.
She had to call Dad. Right now!
Stumbling to the table with the lightning bolt imprinted on her retina and her heart booming, Kimi retrieved her mobile from her pocket and shakily hit speed-dial.
She held her breath, waiting for the call to connect…
Then the words `NO SERVICE` blinked on the screen.
~ 2 ~
~ Is it You? ~
With Little Hand throbbing like the time she trapped it in the car door, Kimi went to the patio doors and stepped outside. The sun was back out and the gulls were fewer. Across the bay the headland gleamed wetly in the sunlight. A pair of rainbows curved down into the sea. Calm and peaceful it might now look, but Kimi knew different. In her mind came a faint image of two shadowy figures standing in an open space; a flicker, a bright flash and the image was gone. She tried her phone again.
This time it connected.
`Hi there, um, you’re through to Dad – um, Jack Nichols, that is – um, leave me a message after the beep and you’ll get back to me in a wiffy!`
Kimi breathed hard into the silence. That was not Dad’s usual recording. And of course one word stood out. She thought of the talking crow…one death today…and considered that Mum or Dad might have been killed by the lightning. But then there was a feeling of something else, something Kimi struggled to understand. It was a feeling of being alone, of being disconnected. Maybe the crow was wrong and both her parents had been struck by the lightning. Mum had said they would be in the clubhouse if there was a storm, but the storm came in quickly. Too quickly. And that lightning bolt was enough to blow the clubhouse apart. She closed her eyes and tried to summon the image of the shadowy figures once more. But nothing came; apart from the realisation that `one death` could mean her own. Of course, that’s why the crow had visited her. It had nothing to do with Mum and Dad.
No – impossible.
There was no crow.
Just imagination at work.
But the feather? It was still crumpled tight in her hand.
She threw it on the floor where it unfurled like a newborn insect.
Feeling vulnerable in her peejays, she placed her mobile on the table and went to the ironing basket. Her pink tee shirt with the Superman logo, the jeans with a sparkly heart on the backside and an old baggy sweatshirt were snatched from the pile. She dressed quickly and slipped into her trainers.
Dad’s words came back to her: Let’s say there is a secret!
Wind howled and a whole heap of rubbish hit the patio doors. Kimi rushed forward intent on locking the doors when the howl became a roar and the doors blew in and slammed off the walls. Leaves and litter burst into the room, pushing Kimi backwards. Hair blowing wildly around her head, she made a grab for the table. Her chair tipped over and slid into the hall. Soggy debris spun round the room. A polystyrene chip carton came flapping at her face. She yelped and ducked. The room groaned, the walls appeared to waver in and out, and the carpet billowed dreamily. Kimi was finding it difficult to stay on her feet. Then the wind vanished as quickly as it had started. The leaves and rubbish dropped to the carpet all at once. The patio doors relaxed from the walls with a little creak. The radio, now on the floor, gave a hiss and went dead for the second time.
Kimi kept tight hold of the table. A crisp packet dislodged from the curtain rail and dropped to the floor. A wet chestnut leaf peeled from the ceiling and landed on the remains of her breakfast. She reached to remove it but froze. The leaf was lifting itself from the plate of its own accord. It rose in the air until it was in line with Kimi’s head where it hovered as if it was inspecting her. Kimi was so frozen that she thought her heart might stop. The leaf did a little jiggle, screwed itself into a soggy ball, then launched itself back to the ceiling where it stuck with a splat. Her breakfast plate was moving, rotating, spinning – faster and faster until the cold beans parted from their sauce and danced in the air like orange fireflies. The plate came to a sudden stop and split into two with a crack. The firefly beans swirled upwards and joined the leaf on the ceiling. Kimi gasped. The beans had spelled out a word.
Kimi’s eyes rolled upwards and the ceiling fell away to darkness. She dreamed she was in the back of the pink limo watching sparks spraying from its sides as it forced its way through Mousehole’s narrow streets. A feeling of excitement was interrupted however when the chauffeur turned around and revealed his huge beak, feathery head and black ball eyes. `One death today!` the crow chauffeur said, before breaking into hideous cackling which juddered his shoulders and made his cap fall off.
Kimi’s eyes shot open. She was sat at the bottom of the stairs and had no recollection of getting there. Little Hand still buzzed with pins and needles and her chin ached something awful. She must have fainted and banged it on the table and somehow crawled from the dining room to here. She thought about making a cup of tea – that’s what Mum would do – but Mum and Dad would be back soon. She’d be safer waiting right here.
She pulled to her feet and peered into the hall mirror to examine the bump on her chin, but only managed to glimpse a purple blotch before the mirror popped off the wall and crashed to the floor at her feet, smashing into pieces. She bounded up the stairs and flew towards her bedroom, arms outstretched, but before she got there the door swung open and invisible hands stuck in her back, propelling her forward. She had to jump onto the bed to avoid cracking her shins. The door slammed shut. She spun around to see her rocking chair slide in front of it. Her chest heaved into sobs and she flung the duvet over her head, wishing more than anything she would hear the car pulling up. Her heart knocked hard in the darkness beneath the duvet. She choked back the sobs and forced herself still.
Then a creak.
The rocking chair.
Back and forth, faster and faster, so fast it started banging off the door and Kimi just had to look. She threw the duvet off and gasped as the rocker went crazy, twisting and turning. The rows of shelves on all three walls began to vibrate. Balled up socks fell to the floor, followed by Ollie dog, Ashley the clown, and most of her animal skulls. The rocker stilled and the shelves stopped vibrating, but one shelf, the top one, caught Kimi’s eye. Right in the corner, her keepsake box slid slowly along the shelf, pushing dolls and teddy bears. One by one they tipped over the edge and dropped to the floor. Lastly, her keepsake box teetered.
It fell, bounced off the arm of the rocker and spilled its contents on the floor.
Movement. A theatre programme lifted and flopped over. Cinema tickets, foreign coins and old photos scattered themselves as if an invisible hand was sifting through them, and then from their midst her long-forgotten corn dolly rose like a vamp from the grave. A tiny thing, no bigger than her thumb, all dusty and worn and one leg missing. It lifted into the air and floated towards her.
Kimi held out Little Hand. As the dolly settled on her palm she felt the fear, and the pins and needles, slipping away. In a whisper, she said, “Is it you?”
~ 3 ~
~ Bentley ~
“Please tell me it’s you.” Kimi didn’t want to say his name, just in case it wasn’t.
Then she caught the smell of bananas. “Bentley!” she said, and immediately the dolly stood up on her palm. The missing leg regenerated and the dusty corn limbs turned golden. “Whoa!” Little Hand closed around the dolly – and she remembered.
She was five. Picnicking on Bodmin Moor where Dad liked to sketch the old standing stones. Hot yellow sun made for bright and inviting corn fields and Dad said not to stray because people had reported seeing big black cats. But Kimi did stray. Mum on the blanket in bikini and sunglasses. Dad in shorts with his head in a sketch pad. Kimi chased the purple butterfly. She liked the way its wings shimmered. When it fluttered over the corn tops, Kimi followed. It was very hot among the stalks. Puffs of dust fell in her face and corn stalks caught her hair as she pushed through. But the butterfly was nowhere to be seen.
Then came a sound like snoring – or purring. She recalled Dad’s warning, but still, she adored cats. She followed the sound to a circle of flattened corn. In the middle lay an enormous cat all black and shiny like a giant blob of liquorice. Kimi giggled. The big cat opened one bright yellow eye – then the other, lifted its bulky head and sniffed the air. It pushed to its feet, yawned and stretched.
“Hello,” Kimi said.
The big cat slinked towards her. Its whiskery snout nudged her tummy and she fell backwards to the sight of long silvery fangs. Another step and the enormous cat was right over her, blocking out the sun. When its jaws opened wide she saw right down its throat. Kimi screamed and a boy appeared in an instant, a boy all misty and blue. He smacked the cat on the nose. It hissed, lurched away and vanished into the corn.
The blue boy smiled, pulled Kimi to her feet, snatched off a corn head, crumpled it in his fist, then held out his hand. In it sat a tiny corn dolly. “I’m Bentley – at your service,” he said.
A cloud of blue mist appeared in the rocker. Kimi smiled as the form took shape, but it was not a boy that appeared. Not Bentley. A man, grinning, and he looked older than Dad. Creases wrinkled a face that was a darker shade of blue. His blue shirt and blue trousers appeared to be woollen. His flecked hair lay in brushed back waves.
“You’re not Bentley.” Kimi shuffled backwards on the bed.
“Yee gads!” said the apparition. “That was hard work!”
It did sound a little like him. “Are you Bentley?”
“Course it’s me. Ain’t aged that much, have I?” The ghostly figure looked offended. He screwed up his face, gripped the arms of the rocker and began to shudder. The blue man shrank. His features and his clothes smoothed out, and seconds later there was little Bentley. “See, it is me,” he said in a small voice.
Kimi emitted a giggle that seemed to be free of nerves.
“What’s so funny?”
Bentley looked down at himself. “Oh!” He screwed his face, shuddered then expanded again. Now he looked about Kimi’s age. “That do?”
“I guess,” Kimi said. “So you did all the poltergeist stuff?”
Bentley nodded. “I was trying to scare you into using your fear to make me materialize the same way you used to. Only it wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Guess you got braver, ay?”
“Braver? I flipping fainted.” Kimi rubbed her chin.
“Ah yes. I didn’t see that coming.”
“And you’ve broken the hall mirror.”
“Hmm, impulsive. Sorry.”
“Mum’ll go mad.”
“It’s good to see you anyway. How’ve you been?”
Kimi looked at the regenerated dolly in her hand and then back to Bentley. “I’m eleven tomorrow.”
“And, erm, eleven-year-olds don’t have imaginary friends. Do they?”
Bentley’s face changed from sunshine to thunder. “We have to be going.” He jumped to his feet and held out a hand. “Come on. There’s no time to waste.”
Kimi shook her head. “Thanks for visiting, but Mum and Dad’ll be back soon. And when they get here, I’m forgetting all about talking birds, whirlwinds and imaginary friends I haven’t seen in years, and I’m taking off for some much needed birthday shopping.”
Bentley sat back down with a surprised look.
“You okay?” Kimi asked.
“Just then Kimi, you mentioned talking birds. What did you mean?”
Kimi hesitated, but only slightly. If you can’t talk to your imaginary friend then who can you talk to? “Well, I was actually spoken to by a crow.”
“Oh.” Bentley’s eyes widened. He looked to the floor in thought.
“Don’t you want to know what it said?”
Bentley stood up and held out a hand once more. “Not right now Kimi. I’ve a predicament, see. The biggest predicament ever to face anyone’s, uhm, imaginary friend. And if I don’t get this right, there’s gonna be big trouble. So please, Kimbo. Come with me.”
It was years since she’d been called that. Years. “But the crow, Bentley. It flew into the doors, then it attacked me, then it said -”
“No, Kimi. Tell me later. We need to skedaddle!”
“Skedaddle to where? And why? This is about the lightning isn’t it? Something’s happened to Mum or Dad – or both – or something’s about to happen to me. You’re here because you know, don’t you?”
“What could possibly make you think I might know something?” Bentley pulled the rocker to one side and opened the door. He held out a hand again. “Now come on. I’m serious. We have to go, Kimi. Right now!”
Kimi did not budge. “You obviously know something because you were trying to scare me into making you appear. Why would you do that if you didn‘t know something bad was going to happen?”
Bentley let out a long breath and closed his eyes. He shuddered then bloomed taller into the old and wrinkled Bentley. “You know, you never used to ask so many questions.”
His old eyes were round with anxiety, his creased face pale and sagging. Long seconds of silence passed between them; time for Kimi to think that maybe she should be trusting him. He had always arrived to help when bad things happened. And Kimi had a feeling that the talking crow was only the beginning. Her heart was banging again.
“Listen Kimbo,” Bentley said. “This is not a joke. I really must insist -”
“It‘s okay,” Kimi heard the strain in her voice. “Tell me what to do.”
“You’ll come?” Bentley brightened a little.
He shrank back to young Bentley. This time she took his hand.
Kimi surveyed the mess in the dining room. “Mum’ll crap a cow when she sees this. Can’t you clean it up?”
“I’m not a magician,” Bentley said. He pointed a finger to the air and made a spinning motion. Instantly the wind blew up, whipping the debris into a spin.
“Could have fooled me.” Kimi stepped back against the wall as the mix swirled into a vortex.
“We’re going to my place!” Bentley yelled over the roar. “You’ll be safe there!”
Kimi shook her head.
“Come on,” he beckoned. “Step into the wind!”
Kimi squashed herself against the wall.
“Step inside the wind, Kimi. Please. You’ll be safe. I promise!”
“Nooooo,” she whimpered.
Bentley dropped his finger. The wind vanished and the rubbish fell back to the carpet. He looked really anxious. “I thought you were going to trust me?”
Kimi shook her head. “I – I’m sorry, but something’s not adding up. It’s great to see you again. But would you go off through a whirlwind with an imaginary friend at eleven? Would you? Really? I’m not a little kid anymore. I – I feel something. A vibe. And you know what that something is. Don’t you?”
Bentley leant forward, palms on the dining table. “Well maybe I do, or maybe or I don’t. But that’s not the issue. The issue is, we really need to get out of here.” He shuddered, swelled, and once again old Bentley stood there looking seriously vexed. “All right,” he said in a much firmer voice. “It’s truth time. Here’s some facts, and you need to listen up because there ain’t much time. Understand?”
Kimi managed a single nod.
“Firstly, I’m not imaginary. Never have been. I’m your Tulpa, your protector, created from your essence. Secondly, it’s not a whirlwind, it’s a localised twirly. Thirdly, you ain’t eleven ‘til tomorrow. And lastly – and this is the important bit – any second now you’ll be getting visitors.” He nodded up the hall to the front door.
“Yeah, Mum and Dad,” Kimi said. “They’ll be back, soon.”
“My superiors wanted to snatch you. Take you without your consent.”
“Quiet!” Bentley raised a hand. “I begged them to let me try first. See if I could get you to come of your own will.” He glanced at the wall clock. “It’s nine minutes past ten, Kimi.”
“Quiet, please! We’re out of time. Any second now those visitors will arrive.” He nodded through the hall. “Please, Kimi. Come with your old friend, Bentley, who you can trust with your life.”
Then things moved extremely fast.
The sound of a car – very loud – came screaming up the front lane.
“Hurry!” Bentley stirred the air again with one hand and lunged at Kimi with the other. The rubbish spun and the wind roared. Outside, tyres squealed and the arriving car ploughed into the wheelie bins and sent one bouncing off the front door with a tremendous bang. Kimi screamed and leapt in Bentley’s direction. They collided and Bentley almost fell into the spinning vortex. It wobbled until he got his finger up and twirling again. Kimi looked back to the front door. The hum of the running engine was right outside.
No other sound.
No one getting out.
No one coming to the door.
She turned back to Bentley. There were tears in his eyes. “Trust me Kimbo,” he pleaded.
She glanced back to the front door where the car outside ticked over. “What if it’s Mum and Dad?”
Bentley shook his head. He took a step forward. “Kimi – come on!”
The car outside suddenly revved so loudly that the windows buzzed.
“NOW!” yelled Bentley.
She was already flying towards him. Bentley’s hand gripped hers and pulled her into the vortex. The roar became a whoosh. She glanced over her shoulder in time to see the front door opening and the beginnings of a shadow coming inside, before the vortex spinning around them increased its speed and the world outside went into a blur.
It was calm inside the vortex.
The wind was not touching them. Kimi’s hair was not blowing around her head. In fact, this was the calmest feeling of all. Kimi, still clinging to Bentley, was about to tell him that someone had entered the house when Bentley began to fizzle. Tiny holes appeared on his smiling face. The holes were expanding, joining, cracking, popping. Bentley was vanishing. The noise was horrendous. Kimi pulled away from him. Then she noticed that her hands and the sleeves of her top were also filling with holes; fizzing, bubbling, vanishing. There was no pain, only a feeling of great calm as she watched herself dissolve away to nothing.
Nothing but white.
No spinning wind.
No pins and needles in Little Hand.
No Kimi. Only a consciousness floating in white. Kimi thought of home and saw Dad‘s proud smile when she found her first rat skull, saw Mum laughing – which Mum always did a lot of.
Then back to white.
She looked for her hands, her legs, but could not see nor feel them.
Could not feel herself.
Only a feeling of lightness.
Nothing but white.
One death today.
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