Authors: Oisin McGann
Also available by Oisín McGann:
THE GODS AND THEIR MACHINES
THE HARVEST TIDE PROJECT
UNDER FRAGILE STONE
Books for younger readers by Oisín McGann:
THE BABY GIANT
MAD GRANDAD'S FLYING SAUCER
MAD GRANDAD'S ROBOT GARDEN
MAD GRANDAD AND THE
MAD GRANDAD AND THE KLEPTOES
MAD GRANDAD'S WICKED PICTURES
THE EVIL HAIRDO
THE POISON FACTORY
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A CORGI BOOK 978 0 552 55862 4
Published in Great Britain by Corgi Books,
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
A Random House Group Company
This edition published 2008
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Text and illustrations copyright © Oisín McGann, 2008
The right of Oisín McGann to be identified as the author of this work has been
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For my agent, Sophie,
who tells it like it is
Ivor McMorris was on his way to buy some milk
when his blind eye started hurting him again. As
the first dart of pain lanced through his socket, he
instinctively pulled a soft cloth from his pocket to
wipe the discharge that sometimes seeped from the
corner of his right eye. But that was only a reflex;
his eye was fine. It just wanted to hurt him.
It normally happened in bright sunshine. This
time it was after nine in the evening and the street
was dark. This was an area of council estates and
blocks of flats and the streetlamps were poorly
maintained. With the fingers of his right hand pressing
against his eyelids, Ivor lowered his head and
continued towards the convenience store in the
small arcade of shops at the end of the street. There
was a wind blowing but most of the litter on
the street had been pasted to the pavement by the
recent rain. A beer can rolled noisily by his feet.
Rectangles of orange and yellow glowed out of the
wall of terraced houses on either side of him.
The pain always started the same way. The eyeball
felt swollen in its socket, even though the
doctor had told him it was, in fact, smaller than
the left eye. It throbbed, the warm twinges gradually
growing in strength, getting sharper and hotter.
A particularly vicious one made him grunt in pain.
He had to get the milk and get home before
the agony took hold. Ivor had talked to people who
suffered from migraines and they said the pain was
similar, but he didn't believe it. When his eye
wanted to, it could paralyse him. Sometimes he
cried like a child.
Ivor didn't like leaving his flat. He knew he
would be followed – he was getting used to it now.
There were other people on the street, but he could
not tell which of them might be there for him. The
watchers, wherever they were, seemed content to
observe in their unobtrusive way. But there was no
way of knowing when that might change. He was
afraid that some day they would stop watching and
something to him again.
A gang of eight teenagers, none older than
sixteen, sat on a low garden wall wasting the
evening away as only teenagers could. A stereo
buzzed a caustic tune. Kids didn't normally bother
Ivor – he was not one of those adults who had
forgotten what it was like. That said, he was only in
his twenties and already they seemed like they were
from a new era. He ignored them as he walked past.
He minded his own business, so they should mind
But it wasn't that type of street. These kids were
looking for entertainment and they were the type
who expected others to provide it.
'Hey! Problem with yah eye, man?' a black boy
with a skewed baseball cap shouted out.
Ivor kept walking. Another boy, pale and acnescarred
with movements that mimicked an LA
gangster, stood up and jogged out onto the road to
overtake Ivor. His perfectly white tracksuit and cap
said his mother still did his laundry.
'Mah bro' asked you a question, man,' he
barked, walking backwards to face Ivor while
he talked. ''S rude to ignore 'im like tha', y'know.'
Ivor stopped as he found his path blocked, his
hand still pressing against his eye. The darts of heat
were getting worse. He just wanted to get some
milk and get home. He couldn't make his hot
chocolate without milk and he couldn't face an
evening without hot chocolate.
'Yes,' he replied. 'I've a problem with my eye.
Now, get out of my way.'
There was discharge seeping from the corner
of his eye now. That happened when the socket got
irritated. He wiped it away with his little finger.
'I seen you around,' the boy said to him. 'Ain't
we seen him around?'
There was a chorus of affirmatives from the
others, who were gathering behind Ivor to follow
the proceedings. They had indeed seen him around.
Ivor wondered if he was supposed to commend
them on their powers of observation. He decided
against it and went to walk around the boy in front
of him. A hand stopped him.
'Stay 'n' talk wiv us, bro',' the boy urged in a
voice that spoke to the others as well.
'Nah, man. Ah know yah face now. Yah da
hermit. Ain't he da hermit?'
The chorus confirmed it. He was the hermit.
They'd seen him around. The pain was white-hot
now, and he knew it showed on his face. It seemed
to burn like acid along his optic nerve. Soon his
whole head would be bursting with it. To hell with
the hot chocolate – he had to get home.
'Hey, Lucas, ain't he rich?' the black kid asked
his pasty pal.
'Word is that you won da lottery, man,' Lucas
persisted. 'Is that true? Is you rich?'
'I have to go . . .' Ivor hissed through gritted
'No, you don't. You gonna answer mah
'I have to— Uurrrgh!' Ivor's voice gurgled into
a growl as the pain blinded his other eye. It was
unbearable now. It was as if someone had planted a
white-hot industrial ball-bearing in his eye socket.
He screamed. It made no difference but he
screamed again anyway.
Lucas stepped back as Ivor's face clenched up,
the older man's breathing coming in harsh gasps.
Ivor's skin was glossy with sweat, his brown hair
hanging lank over his forehead. His fingers moved
with a will of their own, forcing the eyelids of his
right eye open. As the fingers dug clumsily into the
socket, he jerked his head down once . . . twice. He
gave another shriek and his movements became
'Dude's goin' ape, man!' Lucas cackled.
'Someone check his pockets!'
'You check his pockets,' another voice retorted.
'I ain't touchin' the freak!'
Lucas reached round to slip his hand into Ivor's
jacket pocket. And that was when Ivor finally
succeeded in plucking his eyeball out of its socket.
With an agonized roar, he struck out at the young
mugger, slamming the eye against the kid's temple.
It hit with a dull crunch and Lucas fell backwards
onto the wet ground, stunned. Blood trickled
from his temple into his hairline. A shard of glass
was embedded in his skin. Ivor looked down at the
palm of his hand in dismay; that was the fourth eye
he had wrecked. Dr Higgins was going to give him
another lecture about that. He tossed the remains
of the glass ball away and stared down at Lucas.
Parting the scarred, sagging eyelids of his right eye,
he gave the kid a good long look at the empty
'Get out of my sight, you little cretin.'
Lucas didn't need any more telling – he didn't
even stop to pick up his baseball cap. The rest of the
gang were already running. Lucas took off after them.
Ivor sighed and pressed a tissue against the
shallow cut in his palm. The army had stopped
giving him the more expensive plastic eyes after
he'd ruined the second one. Glass eyes were a little
cheaper. The pain was already abating – it always
did after he got the eye out – but now he felt
embarrassed about how he looked. He really
needed his hot chocolate. Ever since getting off the
painkillers he had avoided alcohol and medication,
but he still had to have his little comforts.
Scanning the street, he saw that there was
nobody else around now. If there was somebody
still watching him, they were doing it from a
window or a rooftop somewhere. Let them watch,
he was past caring.
Walking the last hundred metres to the shop, he
kept one hand over his empty socket while he got
the milk from the fridge. As he passed the shelf of
newspapers, he spotted the front page of the
, which had a large, blurred photo of
what could be either a flying saucer silhouetted
against the night sky, or a dustbin lid thrown into
the air. The headline read: WE ARE NOT ALONE. The
story was about a 'mysterious shape' seen over a
suburb of the city the night before.
'Christ Almighty,' he muttered. 'Can't they find
any real news?'
Ivor paid for the milk and then he walked out.
He always felt self-conscious about the gaping
hollow where his eye should be. Higgins was right;
if he was going to keep breaking his eyes, he would
have to start carrying spares.
The newsroom clattered with activity as journalists
and editors worked to make the deadline for the
Friday morning edition. Amina Mir could feel
the excitement like static in the air, making the
hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Voices called
for copy, people argued over headlines and layouts,
a woman yelled down the phone at a photographer
to email in the shots that were due an
and somebody somewhere was cursing at their
Tomorrow was going to be a big news day and
everyone wanted to be finished with this edition so
they could harry their contacts in the government,
the police and the city council to get a sense of
which way things were going to go. Every newshound
in the city wanted to know if there were
going to be riots.
Amina loved it all. The
was one of the
country's top newspapers and she was getting to see
how it all worked. This was where her mother had
started years ago. Get a foot in the door doing work
experience and if you got lucky, you could make an
impression. And Amina was good at making
She was due to start her second year of
university in September – journalism, of course –
but her mother had told her that this was how
careers were made: getting into a good newsroom
and making photocopies or making coffee for the
editors. As a favour to her mother, the managing
editor, a grizzled old soak named Joel Goldbloom,
had even given her some minor human-interest
articles to write.
They were the usual tripe that papers used
to fill in the side columns:
ELVIS MUSIC CHEERS
UP DEPRESSED GORILLAS
IT DEPRESSED GORILLWAY
MUGGER FOILED BY
. Amina wanted to make the front page
before she was twenty-one, but for now she'd settle
for writing about human beings . . . and not getting
stuck in the horoscopes.
Tomorrow might be her chance at a real break.
She eyed the door to Goldbloom's office. He
had her sifting through one of the paper's email
inboxes for spam, but he had hinted that he might
have another story for her to write. There was
going to be a massive protest march tomorrow, calling
for an end to the controversial war in Sinnostan.
Hundreds of thousands of people were expected
on the streets and most of the paper's reporters
were going to be occupied in covering various
aspects of it.
Amina was sure they'd be able to find her
something to do.
She popped her head round the computer
monitor at the sound of Goldbloom's voice.
'In my office. Now.'
The editor's office was a large, cluttered space
with a beaten-up old desk and a worn leather chair.
There were a couple of more modern pieces of
furniture in the room but they were littered with
paper and treated with thinly disguised contempt
by their owner. You had to have spent time in the
world before you earned Goldbloom's respect. A
wall of glass allowed him to look out on the
newsroom and level his evil eye at anyone who
appeared as if they might be giving the paper anything
less than their best. Amina entered and stood
in front of his desk like a schoolgirl before the
'I have a story for you,' he grunted at her as he
flopped back into his chair.
Amina's face lit up with an eager grin. She was
an attractive girl; her dark hair and Arabic skin came
from her father, but the rest she got from her
mother, and she had a gift for smiling in a way that
made most people smile back. But not Goldbloom.
His red, slightly bloated face showed no sign of
reflecting her delight.
'It's a human-interest piece,' he told her.
'Oh,' she said, trying to convey her disappointment
without sounding ungrateful. 'I . . . I thought
you might need more people out on the streets.'
'The streets are covered,' he retorted. 'And
besides, you haven't made nearly enough cups of
coffee to earn that kind of credit yet.'
'Right. How much coffee will I have to make,
'Oceans of it,' he said, sifting through some
piles of paper. 'And your mother was able to take
the photocopier apart and put it back together
before she was allowed out on the streets. You can't
even change a cartridge yet. Still, you'll be glad to
hear there are no animals involved in this one . . .
so far as I know. Here, this is it.'
He handed her a piece of notepaper with a
name and address on it.
'Young fella – used to write articles for us a few
years back,' Goldbloom added, running his hands
through his thinning, yellowy-white hair. 'Got on
to me recently. He's living on a disability allowance
now – was serving in Sinnostan and got wounded
in action. But get this: a few months ago he won a
couple o' million on the lottery and he's
. Word got out about his win and now he
barely sets foot outside his flat. He says there's more
to it than just the pests and the begging letters
but he wants to talk to someone in person. That's
you, sweetheart. He's expecting you tomorrow