Authors: Tanith Morse
By Tanith Morse
Copyright 2013 by Tanith Morse
opyright 2013 by Tanith Morse
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
To Elliot, thanks for your tireless support and dedication.
hat are you reading?”
I glanced up from my book. The girl standing over me had a pleasant, open face, but I didn’t return her smile. She was the willowy blonde from my English class who sat two seats back. She wore way too much make-up and her roots needed retouching, but somehow she made it look right.
She’d tried to catch my eye a couple of times already, but I’d ignored her. If I’d wanted to make friends, I’d have spent lunch in the cafeteria with the others instead of finding this nice, quiet spot on the benches behind the Science department.
I was hoping not to be disturbed.
“It’s George Orwell,
,” I answered.
“Yes, it’s one of the classics.”
“What’s it about?”
I rolled my eyes
. Who the hell didn’t know about the Thought Police, Big Brother, and Room 101? Had she been living on another planet?
Undeterred, the blonde sat next to me. She smelled of soap and chewing gum.
“I’m Becky,” she said. “We’ve got English together.”
“You’re Samantha Harper, right?”
“You know, it’s funny. When we first met last week, I could have sworn I’d seen you somewhere before. Your face looked so familiar. And then Mr. Maine introduced us and the penny dropped.”
My stomach tightened. I knew exactly where this conversation was heading. It wasn’t fair. I’d only been at St. Mary’s High School a short time and already someone had recognized me.
, aren’t you?” Becky whispered. “You’re that girl who was kidnapped.”
For a moment, I let the question hang there. Then I nodded.
“Wow, I knew it!” she said. “Obviously, you’re a lot older now. But I could still tell.” Her face lit up with excitement.
I squinted at my book, trying again to immerse myself in the world of Winston Smith, but it was no use. I clenched my jaws, trying to contain my emotion. “If you don’t mind, Becky, I’d rather not talk about this.”
Her smile dropped. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. Hope I haven’t offended you.”
“Not at all,” I said. “It’s just … well, it’s not something I like to think about.”
“I understand. Bad memories and all that.”
In the awkward silence that followed, Becky began making little pleats in the hem of her skirt, then smoothed them out and tried a different tack. “Did the police ever find Elliot?” she asked. “You know, the little boy who was abducted with you?”
My mouth became a thin, tight line. I said nothing.
Becky kicked a pebble with the toe of her tennis shoe. “I remember seeing your picture in the newspaper. Must be weird being so famous.”
My mind raced back ten years to a time when the world had seemed a safer place—a time before my innocence was cruelly shattered. I could see it all as if it were yesterday.
Elliot Marsh had lived next door to me since we were toddlers. We’d attended the same nursery and primary schools, and our parents were the best of friends. He was the type of kid who’d take a punch for you, lie for you, or share his last Snickers bar with you. He seemed tough, but he had a big heart. If anyone picked a fight with me at school, I always knew Elliot had my back. I knew I could depend on him, no matter what.
Elliot and I spent most summers together, climbing trees, having water fights, playing video games, watching cartoons, and teasing the neighbor’s dog. We even went to Disneyland together once. We had the kind of friendship that only comes around once in a lifetime.
Neither of us could have imagined what was about to happen.
The snow had come early to London that dark Halloween night as Elliot and I started trick-or-treating on our street. We were bo
th seven, but he was six months
older. The two of us had felt so grown up dressed as Batman and Batgirl, trudging from house to house in search of candy. By the time we’d finished the rounds, our buckets were nearly filled to the brim. People had been generous—but I wanted more.
“Let’s start heading back,” Elliot said.
“But I still have a litt
le room in my bucket,” I whined. “A
nd I hardly got any chocolate.”
“You know what our parents said.”
“They’ll never know. Let’s try one more street.”
“Do you reckon we should? Didn’t my mum say we should stay where she can see us?”
“What are you, a scaredy cat?” I teased.
“No, I’m not scared of anything.”
“Then let’s go!”
“But dinner’s gonna be ready soon. I’m hungry.”
“Eat some candy. If you’re too chicken, then I’ll have to hit the next street on my own.”
He hesitated, then relented. “Okay, okay, I’ll come.”
We took a left turn at the roundabout and started trudging up an unfamiliar street. Our boots, now ankle-deep in snow, made eerie, hollow sounds as they crunched on the pavement. We could see our breath in icy clouds.
Suddenly, I felt an odd sensation, as if something had thrown a handful of wet leaves at my back. It made me freeze in my tracks.
We heard the sputter of an engine—an old, tired sound, like the last chokes of a dying witch. We spun around and saw a battered, white van speeding in our direction, its headlights blinding us. When the vehicle pulled up alongside us, it screeched to a stop and an enormous man jumped out.
He was the most hideous creature I’d ever seen: seven feet tall, with bloodshot eyes, dirty brown overalls, and a matted beard that hung down to his waist. His bushy brows met in the middle, and his neck and hands were covered in thick, black hair. His lips scared me the most: they were purple and punctured with teeth marks.
What happened next was a kind of blur. One minute we were standing by the curb, clutching our trick-or-treat candy—and the next minute, this monstrous creature had scooped us up under his arms and shoved us into the back of his van. Candy spilled from our abandoned, overturned buckets, making a colorful stream in the snow.
Inside, the van was dark and damp. The floor was covered with large clumps of hay, as though it had been used to haul livestock. The putrid smell of rotten meat was overwhelming.
As the van rattled up the road, Elliot and I huddled together like a pair of scared rabbits, holding each other tight for comfort. I’ll never forget the warmth from his tiny fingers as they interlocked with mine, or the way he tried not to tremble for my sake. Elliot was putting on a brave face, but I knew he was just as frightened as I was.
As my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, I noticed we were not alone. Sitting a couple of feet away was a silhouette; when we passed a streetlamp, I could see it was a woman with swarthy skin and long, dark hair that was gathered back in two big bunches. She was dressed in strange layers of embroidered cloth that reminded me of a Russian
doll. Chunky, gold bracelets weighed down her spindly wrists, and her calloused fingers sported an array of antique medallion rings.
I gasped when I saw her eyes: black, unflinching, and potently evil.
I burst into tears, and once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. I was terrified. Elliot cradled me in his arms, stroking my hair to make me feel warm and protected, but I could tell he wanted to cry, too.
“What are you going to do with us?” he asked, trying to make his voice sound serious and brave.
The woman didn’t answer.
“I want my mum,” I whimpered.
Elliot continued trying to calm me. After a moment, he looked the woman dead in the eye, an expression of defiance on his face. When he spoke, his voice sounded much older. “Let my friend go,” he said. “I don’t care what you do to me. Just let her go. She doesn’t want to be here.”
The woman folded her arms across her chest and glared in reply, her face as grim and impenetrable as ever.
My sobs intensified. I believed now that we were going to die. This was it. We were Hansel and Gretel, about to be eaten by the witch.
“Let my friend go,” Elliot repeated. “I promise I’ll be good. I won’t scream or anything. I’ll do whatever you say. Just please … let her go.”
Abruptly, the woman made a violent stabbing gesture with her hand, and then she turned toward the driver. “
” she rasped. Her voice sounded unearthly.
The man hit the brakes and the van skidded to a halt. The woman continued muttering in a strange, foreign language as she wrenched me from Elliot, unbolted the back doors, and shoved me out onto the street.
The last image I had of my best friend was his sweet, tear-stained face, his tiny hand waving goodbye to me as the van doors closed.
I never saw Elliot Marsh again.
As I picked myself up, I saw that the snow had begun falling again. Huge, white flakes sifted down from a treacherous sky, like a terrible judgment from God.
I glanced left and right, trying to get my bearings. I was in the middle of nowhere, miles from home, alone and terrified.
The windows of the houses around me were dark and as empty as a skeleton’s eye sockets. I just stood there, frozen, not knowing what to do. Then, wiping my nose on my sleeve, I took a deep breath and started walking up the driveway of the nearest house.
When I got to the door, I found I was too short to reach the brass knocker, so I had to call through the letterbox. “Help me, help me! My friend’s been kidnapped!”