Authors: Emma Haughton
About this book
Three years ago, thirteen-year-old Danny Geller vanished without trace. His family and friends are still hanging on to every last shred of hope. Not knowing if he's alive or dead, their world is shrouded in shadows, secrets and suspicions. This is the story of what happens when hope comes back to haunt you. When your desperation is used against you. When you search for the truth â but are too scared to accept the reality staring you in the faceâ¦
A mesmerizing psychological thriller with the most incredible twist you'll read all year.
To Josh, Flan, Chip, Hetty and James.
In memory of Joan and Tom Robinson.
I never meant to be here.
I hadn't planned to be standing by the boating lake, shivering in the October breeze, watching seven men look for traces of my lost best friend.
Nor had I told anyone I was coming. Didn't mention it to Dad. Or Martha, who was boycotting the whole thing, still refusing to believe anything bad could have happened to her son.
The truth was, I didn't even want to be here. I
to be. When the time came, I just couldn't stay away.
And what with the sudden cold snap, I thought I'd be alone down on the seafront. But it was half-term and news had clearly got around. By the time I arrived, a small crowd had already gathered along the yellow tape sectioning off the lake. Mainly grown-ups, but a few children too, the smallest sitting on their parents' shoulders, noses nipped pink by the wind.
As I padlocked my bike to the fence by the Marine Cafe, I spotted Tom from my tutor group across from the crazy golf, next to a man I guessed was his father. Tom gave me a smile and waved, like we'd bumped into each other at the cinema or something. I pretended not to notice, pulling my hood close around my face and praying no one else would recognize me. The last thing I needed was anyone telling Martha I was here.
I walked up to the row of bathing huts, where I had a good view of the police divers as they wriggled into baggy black drysuits and heaved oxygen tanks onto their backs. With their masks on, you could barely see their faces. It made them look sinister, creepy, like something out of a horror film.
It seemed to take them for ever to get ready. All around, people shuffled and stamped, pulling scarves and coats tighter as they waited. My stomach felt raw and edgy with nerves and impatience, my cheeks red and windburned.
“Get on with it,” muttered the man next to me. His head was covered by a striped bobble hat, the kind you see on little kids, pulled right down over his ears. The woman next to him wore a red anorak and an expectant look, like someone waiting for a show to begin.
As if this wasn't real, wasn't about someone's life. And the lives of everyone he'd left behind.
Finally all seven divers lined up at the end of the lake, spreading out to cover its full width. Each held a long pole in one hand, a torch in the other. I felt almost disappointed. I guess I'd expected something more dramatic â big hooks, complex equipment or something, radars perhaps.
This wasn't supposed to be exciting, I reminded myself, as bit by bit, moving together, the divers descended into the murky lake. The water barely reached their knees at first, rising to their waists as they waded deeper, step by slow, careful step, shining their torches into the depths, prodding every inch of the bottom with their poles.
Around me, the crowd thickened as dog walkers and holidaymakers paused to see what was going on. I was glad Martha wasn't here. It was boring and nerve-wracking at the same time, and something about other people's curiosity made me feel cross and spiky. This felt private somehow. None of their business.
A sudden murmur surfed the crowd. Several people pointed towards the lake as kids surged forwards for a better view. One of the divers put his hand in the air and signalled the others to stop. Adjusting his face mask, he lowered himself head first into the water.
Seconds drifted byâ¦ Nothing. I felt tense, breathless, queasy.
Then he surfaced, one hand holding something in the air. My heart lurched as I strained to see. The police on the lakeside passed a plastic bag down the line, and the diver dropped in a solitary shoe.
“Reckon it's his?” the woman in the red anorak asked the bobble-hat man.
He shrugged. “Who knows?”
In my head, Danny pedalled across the ledge separating the shallow from the deeper part of the lake. Like a slow-motion sequence in a film, I saw him lose his balance and fall into the water, head glancing against the side as he sank into the shadowy depths.
A shiver flowed through me, chilly as the wind. I shook the image from my mind. Turned back to watch the divers resume their slow, painstaking shuffle, my legs twitching with frustration.
Perhaps I should have asked Lianna and Maisy to come. Even Tanya or Vicky, or practically anyone else from Year Eight. At least I'd have had someone to distract me from this electric prickle in my skin, this anxious flutter in my chest.
But I knew they wouldn't have stuck it for long; all around me people were drifting away as they lost interest.
“What's going on?” asked an older woman with a dog. The bobble-hat man reeled off Danny's name and how he disappeared three weeks ago, like he was discussing an old friend. But then, thanks to the local paper, everyone round here knew what had happened.
“Do they think he drowned swimming or something?” the woman asked. She at least had the decency to look more shocked than curious.
The bobble on his hat shook. “I doubt it. It's way too shallow. They're just looking for clues.”
“Unless someone dumped him there,” the woman in the red anorak chipped in, her voice chirpy. “Weighed him down or something.”
The older woman grimaced, and I flashed back to those times Danny and I had swum in the lake. The way the muddy water curled around your legs, cool and slippery. How you had to keep your feet tucked up high to stop them brushing against the sludge on the bottom.
I shuddered again. Martha was right. This was a mistake, I should never have come. But though my head wanted to leave, my legs refused to move. The woman and her dog moved on and through the gap she left, I spotted a man shouldering a TV camera, rotating it slowly to film the onlookers. Probably a local channel.
I pulled my hood closer and looked at my feet as the lens swung in my direction â no way did I want to appear on the regional news. When I raised my head again, the cameraman was focusing back on the divers.
“We should go,” the bobble-hat man said, checking the time on his phone.
The woman in the anorak took a last lingering look at the wading men, now halfway across the lake.
“Poor kid,” she sighed as she turned away.
By the time the divers reached the far wall I was almost alone, everyone else defeated by cold and boredom. Not that they'd missed much. Ranged along the walkway was a collection of rubbish. Lots of bottles and shards of glass. An old bike wheel, too small to be Danny's. A supermarket trolley.
And a rusty toy pram, dredged up from the southern side of the lake. It wasn't big, and judging by the way the diver pulled it effortlessly out of the water, it didn't weigh much.
I watched it dripping on the slipway, trying to imagine how it had ended up in there. I pictured some kid out with her parents, pushing it too close to the edge. The pram skeetering out of her grip, toppling in. Hands grasping at the water. The doll rescued perhaps, but the pram sinking without trace.
Why didn't anyone go in after it? The water barely came up to the chest of most people, even in the deeper bits. Maybe they didn't know that, I decided, or maybe they didn't think it worth the bother. You could hardly blame them. I wouldn't have gone in either, not without Danny egging me on.
Staring across the empty lake, I couldn't erase that little girl from my mind. I saw her crying, clutching the doll to her chest as her mum pulled her away. Glancing back to where dark water swallowed her pram for ever.
Something shifted and stirred inside me. A deep pain rising, like a bubble, surfacing like a gasp as I shook away the image of my mother's face. My throat closed tight and my mouth went dry. I gulped in salt air in an effort to stay standing.
I couldn't think about Mum. Not now.
I hurried back to the cafe. They hadn't found Danny, I kept telling myself. They hadn't found Danny and I should be relieved. They hadn't found Danny â and what happened to Mum didn't change a thing.
But as I fiddled with my bike lock, fingers numb and clumsy with cold, I couldn't get rid of the sudden, certain feeling that I'd lost him too.
All the warning I get that my life is about to detonate is a blast of music. I recognize it from a class we did on Beethoven â “Ode to Joy”, I think it's called. It fills the silent classroom, prompting thirty heads to turn and stare in my direction. It's only then I realize it's coming from nearby.
Very nearby. The bottom of my rucksack no less.
Hell. My phone. Alice has been messing with my ringtones again.
I ferret in my bag and cut the call just as Mr Harrington looks round from the quadratic equations he's writing on the whiteboard. Clocks my reddening face.
“While I applaud your taste in music, Miss Radcliffe,” he barks, “I'd rather you didn't flaunt it in my lesson. Turn it off or I'll confiscate the damn thing.”
Lianna and Josie both wink at me and grin. I roll my eyes and smile. As Mr Harrington turns back to his figures, I peer at the screen under the desk. The call was from Martha. A second later a text flashes up.
Janet Reynolds called. Have to leave urgently. Can you get Ally? Martha xx
That's all. But it's enough to ignite a hot lick of dread in my stomach.
I text back
, then switch off the phone. Drop it into my bag and turn to face the whiteboard, trying to act like nothing just happened at all.
Alice is sitting on the grass inside the school playground, the back of her blonde head bobbing up and down as she picks the heads off the daisies and gathers them into a pile. I nod to her teacher, who waves hello.
“Hannah!” Alice leaps up when she sees me, flinging her arms around my neck and swinging her feet off the ground.