Authors: Claire Merle
Tags: #David_James Mobilism.org
Claire wrote her first paranormal screenplay at the age of thirteen and named it after a road sign.
never made it to the big screen, but she continued to write and daydream her way through school and university. Claire graduated with a first BA (Hons) in Film Studies, and spent the next few years working in the BFI. She worked as a runner and camera assistant, and fantasised about creating her own films. In 2000, she wrote and directed the short film,
, which sold to Canal Plus. Today, Claire is concentrating on writing YA fiction. She spends her time between Paris and London, along with her French husband and two young sons.
Find out more about Claire’s books or contact her at www.clairemerle.com.
First published in this edition in 2012
by Faber and Faber Limited
74-77 Great Russel Street,
London wc1b 3da
Typeset by Faber and Faber Ltd
Printed in the UK by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon Al rights reserved
© Claire Merle, 2012
The right of Claire Merle to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77
of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall
by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold,
or otherwise circulated without the
publisher’s prior consent
in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which
it is published and
without a similar condition including
being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
record for this book
is available from the British Library isbn 978–0–571–28053–7
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For my husband, Claude, who always knew.
Sometimes, when Ana hovered on the edge of sleep,
she heard the
patter of feet along the school
corridor; she felt her best friend
Tamsin close by – a
near, warm presence like the imprint on a bed
recently slept in; she saw the Board’s saloon car
pulling up outside
the front of school, a white
envelope glowing through one of their
whispering her name, her disease.
Of course that wasn’t really how it happened. A little
three years ago, as Ana stood in home
economics, large science
goggles propped on the end
of her nose to be ironic, she hadn’t
known they were
coming for her. But sometimes, in the twilight
between wakefulness and dreams she saw it all. As
of her were trapped in the past,
conscious of the threads that were
tightening their hold around her to create one
shattering moment that would change everything.
Mrs Beale checked the temperature of the water in Ana’s plastic baby bath. Behind them, Tamsin hunched Ana’s plastic baby bath. Behind them, Tamsin hunched over her own tub and mimicked their teacher, peering cross-eyed at the thermometer.
‘Thirty-seven degrees Celsius,’ Mrs Beale muttered.
Tamsin’s lips moved in sync with the teacher’s words.
Her eyelids fluttered, gazing high over Ana’s head, just like Mrs Beale. Ana bit the insides of her cheeks, holding back laughter.
Beneath the sweet scent of warmed milk and baby cream lingered the tang of burnt cake. In another life, the lab had been used for identifying carbon dioxide gas with litmus paper and heating sodium-dipped flame-test wires over Bunsen burners. Now it was employed for warming baby bath water to precisely thirty-seven degrees Celsius, for measuring out bottle formulas, for learning to cook large family meals.
Mrs Beale strode past Ana’s bench towards Tamsin.
Tamsin dropped her impersonation and gazed up at their home economics teacher with wide eyes. Her dark fringe cut a straight line halfway across her forehead. She was 1
pushing it more than she normaly did. Recently, it seemed to Ana, her best friend wanted to get into trouble.
‘Now, girls,’ Mrs Beale said. Her high-pitched voice strained to be heard over the general class chatter. ‘In an emergency, if you find yourself without a thermometer, you may test the water with your wrist. It should be you may test the water with your wrist. It should be warm, but not hot. Never put a baby in a hot bath.’
Tamsin’s hand shot up.
‘What if you’ve been in an accident,’ she said, ‘and lost your hands, or been burnt in a fire and have skin grafts?
Could you test with your elbow, if you stil had one?’
Ana squeezed her lips together and snorted. Her shoulders shook. Tamsin blink-blink-blinked her lashes.
‘Your elbow would be fine,’ Mrs Beale replied, ‘should the situation require it.’
Several other girls on the benches nearby giggled. But not even a hint of a smile reached Tamsin’s eyes. She wanted to be an actress. At times like this, Ana knew her best friend was practising, proving to herself she was good enough. But Pure girls didn’t act; they didn’t become concert pianists, like Ana dreamed of being, either. They were too important for that.
A knock sounded on the classroom door.
‘Come in,’ Mrs Beale triled.
A smal girl from a couple of years below entered.
‘Yes?’ the teacher said.
The girl blushed. ‘The headmistress is waiting for Ariana Barber.’ She curtsied then turned on her heel and darted out.
Ana stared at the life-sized newborn-baby dol lying on 2
the workbench, waiting for its bath. Head wanted to see her? Head never saw anyone. It was the deputy headmistress who took care of trouble, who handed out detentions and tasks.
‘You’d better go,’ Mrs Beale said. ‘Leave al that.’
Sixteen pairs of eyes folowed Ana out of the classroom.
Head’s office lay off the front entrance to the school.
Ana’s patent leather shoes tapped the parquet floor and echoed down the empty corridor as she approached.
The usual projected message shone on the closed door: Do Not Disturb. But beneath it lay a personalised instruction: Enter, Ms Barber. Ana’s heart flipped into her throat as she reached out, twisted the handle, and went inside.
Five grown-ups sat around a large meeting table. Three, including Ana’s headmistress faced the door; her father sat at one end; the last man had his back to her.
Everyone but her father looked up as she entered.
Ana’s breath caught in her throat. She rubbed her hands on her blue uniform skirt.
‘Please sit down, Ariana,’ Head said, gesturing to a chair.
She shuffled towards the table. Her mind fel blank. She flexed her legs to sit, but they gave way. Her bum hit the wooden seat with a slap. The jarring force traveled up her spine and rattled her brains.
‘The Board,’ Head said, introducing the man and woman
‘The Board,’ Head said, introducing the man and woman beside her.
Ana’s eyes flicked up to the ugly pair. Now she 3
understood her father’s stilness. He was scared. The Board didn’t visit normal people.
The female in the grey suit stroked the corner of a stiff envelope bearing the Board’s gold stripe. Head’s eye twitched. The man beside Ana, the Chief Warden from their Community, who was in charge of security, kept glancing at her father. The male Board representative cleared his throat.
‘The Board of Psychiatric Testing and Evaluation,’ he said, ‘was established ten years ago, just after the Pure tests, to help contain our country’s Mental Health Crisis and prevent it from spiraling out of control.’
His monotone sent a shiver down Ana’s back. He obviously wasn’t here to give her a history lesson.
‘Science has classified the genetic mutations,’ he went on, ‘for three hundred and four Mental Ilnesses.’ His head bobbed, too large for his skinny neck. ‘Each mutation is dominant.’