Authors: Lyn Gardner
It was another hour before the Swans were finished at the Zelda auditions, and as they set off back to the Tube station, Aeysha checked her phone.
“I've got a text from Livy. Apparently Katie didn't turn up for school again today, and she still hasn't replied to any of our texts or calls,” she said.
“Maybe she's not very well?” said Georgia.
“Possibly,” said Aeysha. “But what if she's too upset to come back? I've been thinking about what happened. When Kylie started singing, none of us said anything. We were all too shocked. I couldn't really believe what I was hearing. It took me a few moments to react.”
“Yes, but then you did say something,”
Aeysha shrugged. “But Katie doesn't know that. She'd gone by then. From her point of view it would seem very much as if we all sat by and let Kylie get away with bullying her. Maybe she thinks we all secretly agreed with her? I'm going to talk to Livy. I think we should go to Katie's house, find out what's going on.”
They stopped at some traffic lights at a busy road junction. Georgia peered into the window of a little cafÃ© next to them. Through the half-steamed-up window she could see a girl with long, blonde and very straight hair sitting on her own at a table. From behind she looked just like Katie. The girl half turned and Georgia gave a little gasp. It
Katie! What was she doing there when she should be miles away at the Swan?
“Look!” hissed Georgia, suddenly nudging Aeysha. “I don't think Katie's sick.”
Aeysha looked through the window. But the girl had turned round again and a man had sat down at the table behind her, obscuring the view.
“It's probably just someone who looks like her,” said Aeysha as the lights changed and
they started to cross the road. “There must be thousands of girls in London with long blonde hair.”
Georgia glanced backwards. She had been certain it was Katie, but she must have been mistaken. But if it wasn't her, then there was somebody running around London who looked remarkably like her.
“Are you quite sure this is the right place?” said Aeysha doubtfully.
Olivia looked at the address she had scribbled down on a sheet of paper. She nodded. “Gran gave it to me when I said Katie wanted us to take some work round.”
“Well,” said Aeysha, “it's certainly a bit different from what she's used to.”
The entrance to the flat was down an alley at the back of a row of mostly boarded-up shops. The alley was piled high with broken bags of rubbish, and as Olivia and Aeysha entered the alley something suspiciously like a rat scurried away.
“Ugh,” said Aeysha. “To think Katie has to walk down here alone every day. Even when it's dark and she comes back late after extra classes
at school. And it took us ages to get here.”
Olivia looked at the peeling front door. “I think we can safely say that there's no luxury swimming pool or bathrooms with gold-plated taps behind there.”
“Poor Katie,” sighed Aeysha. “And that's something I never thought I'd say.”
Olivia looked anxious. “Do you think Katie's going to mind that we've seen where she lives? She's got a lot of pride.”
“Mmm, I hadn't thought of that,” said Aeysha. “But if we just go away she might never come back to the Swan. It's been a week. We'll have to risk it.”
“Mrs Gibbs told Gran that Mrs Wilkes-Cox had rung in to say she was ill. Maybe she really is sick.”
“Sick at heart, more like,” said Aeysha. “Look, we may be about to hurt Katie's pride and she may accuse us of sticking our noses in where we're not wanted, but if we do nothing, if we don't show her that we care about her and respect her, she may chuck the Swan in completely, and school could be all that's keeping her afloat. We have to try to talk to her.”
“You're very persuasive, Aeysha. You
should be a lawyer or a hostage negotiator,” said Olivia, and she lifted the knocker and let it fall. They waited but there was no answer.
Olivia knocked again. “They must be out,” she said.
“I'm not so sure. I think I saw a curtain twitch upstairs,” said Aeysha.
Olivia bent down, pushed open the letter box and peered through. All she could see were uncarpeted stairs.
“Try shouting,” said Aeysha.
“Katie!” called Olivia. “Katie, it's Livy and Aeysha. Please answer the door. We want to talk to you. We're really missing you at the Swan.”
They waited a moment. There was no sound or movement from inside the flat. Olivia straightened up. “We're wasting our time. There's nobody here.”
Aeysha bent to the letter box and shouted through it. “Katie! Katie, please open the door. We've got things we need to say to you.”
“Let's go,” said Olivia. They'd started to walk down the little alley when they heard the sound of the front door being opened. They turned back expectantly, but it was not Katie but
her mum who stood there, her head peering out of the half-open door. Her hair looked unwashed and she was clutching her dressing gown closed at the neck.
“I thought it might be the bailiffs again, which was why I didn't answer,” she said apologetically. “But then I realised it was Katie's friends.” She tried to smile brightly, and Olivia was reminded of a little bird with a damaged wing she had once seen who was still singing cheerfully despite its injury.
“Hello, Mrs Wilkes-Cox,” said Aeysha. “This is Livy and I'm Aeysha.”
Mrs Wilkes-Cox smiled. “I remember you, Aeysha. You used to come to Katie's swimming-pool partiesâ¦” Her voice trailed off.
“We came to see Katie,” said Olivia. “Is she in?”
Mrs Wilkes-Cox looked puzzled. “No, she's still at school. She has an extra dance class on Thursday.”
“But,” Olivia blurted out, “Katie wasn't at school today.”
Mrs Wilkes-Cox gasped. “But she left this morning as usual. We must call the police! Something terrible must have happened to her.”
Aeysha shook her head and frowned at Olivia. They were really not handling this very well. “I don't think so, Mrs Wilkes-Cox,” she said gently. “You see, she hasn't been at school all week.”
Mrs Wilkes-Cox frowned. “But she's got up and gone out at the same time as normal every morning.”
“So,” asked Olivia, “you didn't ring school to say she was sick?”
“No,” said Mrs Wilkes-Cox helplessly. “I thought she was going to the Swan. It's been the one good thing in her life, something to hang on to when everything else â including me â has been so rubbish.”
“She was coming. Every single day until the auditions last week.”
Mrs Wilkes-Cox scrutinised their faces. “Did something happen at the auditions?” she asked sharply. She pulled open the door. “I think you'd better come in and tell me all about it.”
Katie walked slowly down the street. She was shivering and for once she would be glad to get home, if you could call it home. But even the bare, unwelcoming flat was better than being out on the streets all day. The last week had been awful. She hadn't dared tell her mum that she wouldn't be going back to the Swan. She didn't want her mum to know: she was depressed enough as it was without having to worry about Katie too. Katie wanted to protect her, and if she explained how Kylie had treated her and how nobody had bothered to stand up to her she would have to admit to her mum how much she felt that she had deserved what had happened to her because of her own behaviour in the past. Which was why she had just got up every
morning as usual, put on her uniform and left the house at the same time as if she was heading off to school.
Katie wished that you could just shed your past life like a snake could shed its skin. But it wasn't so easy. She'd only ever be able to reinvent herself if they moved somewhere far away where nobody knew them. How she longed to be able to start all over again, like getting a new blank exercise book at the start of the school year.
Apart from going to the Zelda audition, she'd spent the last week riding the Circle line on the Tube, sitting on the top of buses and hanging out in parks and shopping centres, where she went into the lavatories to change out of her school uniform. She'd thought the week was never going to end. She was cold a great deal of the time and she didn't dare stay in one place too long in case she attracted attention. In one shopping centre the security guards had asked her why she wasn't at school and it was only because of her acting skills that she managed to persuade them that she was old enough to have left already.
She jumped as her phone rang. She
expected it to be Aeysha or Olivia or Georgia or even Tom. They had all tried ringing her on and off, and left messages. She wished they would stop. It was only guilt or, even worse, pity that was making them ring. She looked at the number, and her heart lurched. It was Poppet from Kylight Productions. She pressed answer as she turned into the alley, her nose wrinkling at the rank smell of decay.
“Hello, Kate speaking.”
“Kate, sweetie. It's Poppet. Good news! The casting agents have put you forward. The director wants to hear you read. Tomorrow, two p.m. I'll text you the office address. Is that all right?”
“Yes,” whispered Katie, who was standing quite still with the shock of the news.
“You're a very lucky girl, Kate Carmichael. You're in with a real chance to play Zelda,” said Poppet chirpily. “There are girls all over the country wishing they were standing in your shoes.”
“Yes,” said Katie, looking down at where her foot was resting on a greasy Chinese takeaway carton. “I expect there are.” She said goodbye to Poppet and headed for the front
door. She put her key in the lock, turned and pushed the door open to find her mum, Olivia and Aeysha all looking expectantly at her.
Her mum got to her feet. “Oh, Katie,” she said tearfully. “Where have you been? I've been so worried about you. Where have you been going every day? Your friends say you haven't been at the Swan all week.”
Katie stared furiously at Olivia and Aeysha. Her friends were looking anxious and embarrassed, hoping she'd know they hadn't meant to get her into trouble.
Katie looked back at them unsmilingly. “What friends?” she said. “I certainly haven't got any at the Swan. Those that don't hate me just pity me.” She made a choking noise. “I'm never going back. If there's one thing I've learned over the last few weeks it's that I can't rely on anyone. Not on you, Mum, and definitely not on my so-called friends. I'm just going to make it on my own.” She burst into heart-rending sobs, but when her mum and Olivia and Aeysha rushed to hug her she pushed them all away.
On the bus on the way home, Olivia and Aeysha were very quiet. They were shocked by Katie's
circumstances and her evident despair. After a long silence Olivia said quietly, “Do you think it counts as snitching if you tell somebody something about somebody else that they really ought to hear and that they might be able to help make better, even if it got somebody else into really big trouble?”
Aeysha found Olivia's hand and squeezed it. “No,” she said. “I don't think it would count as snitching at all.”
Aeysha and Georgia had grown very curious about Olivia and Tom's frequent disappearances and eventually they forced their friends to tell them where they'd been going. Olivia and Tom swore Aeysha and Georgia to secrecy, as they didn't want lots of Swans turning up unexpectedly in Hangman's Alley. Aeysha and Georgia had been wide-eyed when Olivia described Campions magical interior.
“It's just like the enchanted castle in
” she enthused, “only it's a theatre. The most magical theatre in the whole world.”
Tom stayed strangely quiet. Aeysha, perceptive as ever, had noticed, and afterwards, when Olivia had slipped away and Georgia
had mysteriously said she had to dash too, she had asked him why he didn't share Olivia's enthusiasm.
Tom spoke hesitantly. “Liv's right. Campion's
beautiful, in a faded, rickety kind of way. But it's also quite weird and it's making Liv weird too. Ella doesn't help. One minute she's delighted to see us but clearly thinks we're some other kids called Davey and Lizzie, and the next she behaves as if we are spies sent by someone who wants to take Campion's away from her. I actually find it all really creepy, but Liv is completely obsessed with the place. She wants to go there all the time. It's as if she's being drawn to it by an invisible force, or ghost or something.”
“You mean the theatre's haunted?” asked Aeysha, shivering.
“I don't know,” said Tom. “But I think Olivia hears things and maybe even sees things when we're there, and she's been having the weirdest dreams and is so pale sometimes she looks like a ghost herself.”
“But she seems pretty normal to me,” said Aeysha. “And she's always a bit distracted and pale!”
Tom nodded. “I know. And when she's here, she's like the same old Liv. But you should see her at Campion's or when we get near to the place. It's as if she's possessed. It's so weird.”
Aeysha sighed. “She's not the only one behaving weirdly. Georgia is being really odd too. Yesterday she actually said that she thought maybe we shouldn't see so much of each other while we were both still up for the Zelda role, and this morning she didn't come and sit next to me on the bus like she normally does but went and sat on her own.”
“That is seriously bonkers behaviour,” agreed Tom, “but not half as weird as Liv's.”
He was about to admit that he was frightened when Olivia appeared, holding her coat.
“Come on, Tom, hurry up. Campion's is waiting for us,” she said. “I can feel it.”
Tom and Aeysha pulled a face at each other, but Olivia was too concerned with hurrying Tom away to notice. As they were leaving, Aeysha called after Tom, “Why don't you have a poke around on the Web, Tom? You never know, you might come up with something that explains everything.”
“What was Aeysha talking about?” asked Olivia curiously as they headed towards Hangman's Alley.
“Eh, nothing,” said Tom. “It was just about my history project.”
“Oh,” said Olivia, losing interest and forgetting that they didn't even have history projects. She just glided along the pavement towards Campion's like someone being pulled by an invisible thread. She looked so strange, it made Tom come out in goosebumps.
A few days later, Olivia and Tom jumped off the high-wire on the stage at Campion's. Olivia grinned at Ella and gave a mock curtsy. The little ghost-light was still flickering in its jam jar but had been moved to the side of the stage. Olivia ran to fetch it and placed it back centre stage.
“Good, we must always appease the ghosts and keep them happy,” said Ella approvingly. “Now it's time for tea.”
It was clearly one of Ella's better days. Olivia felt relieved and glanced at Tom. It had been quite a struggle to get him to keep coming after they had discovered that Ella's dreams were spookily like the nightmares that Olivia
was having. Olivia had refused point blank to discuss it. She was just glad he was here today.
Tom looked at Olivia's pale face and resolved to look Campion's up on the Internet that evening. He was cross with himself for being too busy to do it before. Once he had, maybe he should speak to Alicia. But what would he say? That he thought Campion's was haunted and that Olivia was seeing ghosts? And this to a woman who had made it quite clear that she didn't believe in such superstitious nonsense.
Besides, Alicia was preoccupied with preparations for the pantomime. She was spending a lot of the time on the phone to Theo's and Amber's agent, Sheridan, trying to negotiate rehearsal times. Then a crisis had blown up only that morning when the stage designer announced she'd got a last-minute job in New York and wouldn't be able to work on
as she'd promised. Alicia was being stoic about it, saying that if you asked people to work for free, even if it was for a good cause, it wasn't surprising if you didn't get their full commitment, but all the Swans could see that she had her hands full with the production.
“Make yourselves at home,” said Ella as
she handed around the tea cups.
“It does feel like home,” said Olivia happily.
Ella put down her tea cup and said, “Does it really, Livy dear?”
“It's so lovely to hear the sound of children laughing again in the theatre,” said Ella. “It has been such a long time,” she added wistfully.
“But I always hear children laughing when I'm in the theatre; I heard them just now when we were on the wire,” blurted Olivia. She stopped and reddened. Tom was looking at her as if she was mad, but Ella suddenly looked alert and interested like a small, beady-eyed bird.
“Do you have children, Ella?” asked Olivia, suddenly curious.
Ella shook her head sadly. “I never married,” she said. “I was married to Campion's instead.” Her eyes glazed over as she was caught in the web of her own thoughts. “Once I did think my prince had come, but I was deceived. It wasn't love, it was just greed. I've never known true love.”
Olivia saw Arthur gazing at Ella, and noticed him flinch when she said that she had
never known love. It came to her in a flash: Arthur loved Ella. It was why he had stayed with her all these years, long after Campion's had closed down. His love had gone unrequited all that time. It made her think of poor Buttons in
, who was devoted to a girl who never saw him as anything but her best friend. Olivia's heart contracted.
Then Tom broke the spell. “Actually, why did Campion's close?” he asked. “You've never said. There must have been a reason.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Arthur frowned at him, and Ella seemed to grow frailer than ever and left the table abruptly.
“I'm sorry,” said Tom quickly. “I didn't mean to upset her. I just don't understand why there's so much mystery. I feel like I'm trying to solve a riddle without all the clues.”
“That's all right, lad,” said Arthur kindly. “You two coming here has brought back the past to Ella. She keeps trying to push it away when what she really needs to do is exorcise it, but that's never going to happen while she continues to keep the theatre as a shrine. She won't stop punishing herself. I've been hoping that you
might be the two to help her and Campion's, given what happened and all.”
Tom and Olivia were puzzled. They didn't really understand what Arthur was talking about or how they could help, and all the talk of exorcism was making Tom feel spooked again.
“Did something bad happen here? Something to do with children?” he asked anxiously. Arthur looked as if he was about to speak, but at that moment Ella returned to the table as if nothing had happened and said brightly, “Would anyone like another cup of tea?”
Tom and Olivia looked at each other. “Thank you but no,” said Tom. “We've got to get back to the Swan by six o'clock. That's when the panto horse is being called for rehearsal.”
“I'm so looking forward to seeing your routine,” said Ella.
“We'd never have been able to do it if you hadn't lent us the costume,” said Tom. “It's mint.”
Olivia suddenly looked thoughtful. “I wonder if it's possible to do a panto horse routine on the high-wire. I wonder if anyone has ever tried itâ¦”
“Count me out,” laughed Tom. “I find trying to control my own two feet on the wire hard enough; dealing with four would be terrifying.”
“We should at least give it a try,” said Olivia with a grin. “Who knows, with a bit of hoofing around we may do it.”
They were still arguing about it good-humouredly as they said goodbye and made their way down into Hangman's Alley. Tom was pleased to see Olivia behaving more like her normal self. But it didn't last. As they left, Olivia looked up at the Campion's window that overlooked the alley and suddenly froze. Her face went blank and her eyes were glassy. She leaned forward. She could see two children standing looking down at her and Tom, their noses pressed against the glass. They were smiling at her and beckoning. Her head started to fill with children's whispers and giggles, and she could hear what they were saying very clearly:
“Livy, Livy. You can't catch us!”
“What do you want?” she said out loud.
“Liv! Liv!” Tom's voice sounded really scared. “Liv, what is it? What have you seen? Who are you talking to?”
Olivia shook herself. She looked up at the window. There was nobody there. She saw Tom's anxious face, smiled and said softly, “There's nothing to be afraid of, Tom. Everything's going to be all right.”