Authors: Tom Hoyle
Adam kept on crying.
Kylie sat on the dirty kitchen floor, feeling desperate, and thought of killing herself.
But then something deeper stirred within her. If she died, Adam would die. She had to get him away from here. Away from
. So she wrote the words
His name is ADAM
on the back of an old lottery ticket and tucked it inside his top.
Shivering, Kylie dragged Adam from his cot. Immediately he stopped crying, but the noise still surged through his mother's mind.
Kylie opened the front door and took short, old-woman steps down the passageway and stairs. Then she turned left out of the car park and reached the main road. She had to give Adam to someone who could look after him.
Kylie drifted over the curb and a car hooted at her, its driver glaring and shaking his head as he passed.
Kylie stumbled on, her mind whirring. Who could take Adam? And then, an answer. A big building with lights. A hospital? Possibly. Probably.
Kylie crossed the divided highway, not waiting for the lights. More horns blaring and drivers swearing.
Kylie walked on, oblivious. As she crossed the last lane, an Audi driver looked up from fiddling with his radio. He hit the brakes and swerved, smashing his side mirror on the truck beside him. Plastic flew into the air, and one of the larger pieces hit Kylie's shoulder. But still she walked on.
Confused, unaware of where she was, and almost totally unaware of what she was doing, Kylie left Adam on the steps under the lights, next to the large wooden sign. At exactly 2:13 p.m. she pushed Adam gently against the back of the step so that he did not roll away.
A short while later, a loud knock, more like a thud, came on Kylie's door. It was 2:50 p.m.
“Open up. It's Social Services.” It was a woman's voice.
Kylie was slumped on the sofa. The empty can of Coke lay on the floor, alongside Adam's baby bottle. She didn't know what she was doing, or where she wasâshe just knew she didn't want to live any more.
“Open up. Social Services,” said the woman again.
“Open up!” This time it was a man.
Kylie shuffled toward the door, bewildered.
Outside stood two neat figures. Kylie only noticed details: a golden butterfly brooch on the woman; a brilliant white shirt on the man. One of them spoke, but Kylie wasn't sure which: “We have come for the baby.”
Kylie laughed. It was a helpless flare of laughter that shot out from deep inside her. She laughed and laughed, without a smile. “I have given my baby away.” She spat out the words madly. “I haven't got a baby anymore.”
The two visitors stepped into the room. The woman immediately went to the empty cot and said, “It's true. He's gone.”
The man spoke. “Where have you hidden him?”
Kylie's mind was a smudge.
The man spoke again. “You'll find it easier if you tell us now.”
Kylie's eyes wanted to close. She could only see fragments: a jar of baby food, a knife with brown sauce on it, the scars on the man's hands.
She had seen this man before. In the hospital. The man with the sword.
The woman closed the door and stood in front of it.
The man slowly put down his bag. “Kylie. I have been sent to find this child, and I will not disappoint my master. You will tell me where he is.” Desperation erupted inside him. It was nearly 3:00 p.m. “TELL ME.” He stepped closer. “HE. MUST. DIE.”
Kylie thought it was all a nightmare.
I will wake up soon
Then she was forced to the floor, his hand digging into the back of her neck. “YOU will die.”
But Kylie couldn't answer what he asked again and again, because she didn't know. She couldn't think, couldn't tell him, no matter what he did.
She died thinking that someone had come out of that brightly lit building and picked up her baby. She died thinking that Adam was safe.
She was right.
Adam looked at his science results. He knew what the graph was meant to do, but the thermometer was not cooperating. The mercury stubbornly refused to go above eighty-five.
Turning to Megan, he mumbled, “This water is boiling like mad, so I'm going to say it's reached a hundred degrees.”
Megan, on his left, had a neat collection of crosses in a straight line. Adam's graph looked like the outline of a deformed camel. He took another piece of paper and drew his crosses so that they made the shape of a smiley face, then placed it on top of Megan's sheet.
She smiled and shook her head slightly.
Then Adam drew a graph for Leo, on his right. It was clearly in the shape of a pair of breasts. Leo spluttered.
“Adam!” hissed Megan in warning as Mr. Rugg, the science teacher, drifted near.
But Adam had lost interest in the task. He had the two cleverest people in the class on either side of himâa wonderful opportunity to discover the right answer. He flipped open his textbook to the biology section. There was a picture of a peculiar-looking fish. “That's you in the morning,” he said to Leo, who chuckled.
Megan looked at the picture. It did bear a passing resemblance to Leo.
There was a pause as Adam flipped to a page featuring an octopus. “Hey, Megâlook. This creature's amazing. It says here it has eight testicles.”
Megan whacked him with her exercise book.
Leo laughed, half at Adam, half at Megan. Mr. Rugg didn't hear, but Jake Taylor did.
Returning from elsewhere in the room, Jake stopped at the end of the row and yet again punched Leo for no reason.
Leo pushed his lips together, keen not to antagonize Jake, who walked on.
Adam frowned and turned around. “Why did you do that?”
Jake had forgotten about Leo already and was saying something out of the corner of his mouth to the boy on his left. They were laughing in a cold and humorless way. Jake had already turned fourteen and was several inches taller than anyone else; his voice had broken, and he even had the hint of a moustache.
Adam felt anger stir within him like a deep rippling pool. Why did Jake want to spoil their fun? He stared at Jake and spoke louder: “Why did you do that to Leo?” Leo was one of the good guys, awkward and odd, but good. In need of protection.
Jake heard Adam over the hubbub of the classroom and raised his middle finger, but subtly, dismissively, as if an automatic, lazy response. He mouthed words at Adam: “Leo is a fat sack. I'll do what I like.” Then he smirked and nudged his right-hand neighbor, a boy with a square face and gray eyes; they were staring at Megan's chest as she put her thermometer back in the box.
Jake's sniggering and muttering made Adam's anger more forceful and energetic, a fountain rather than a pool. Jake was unreasonable, nasty. Adam felt as if he was having an allergic reaction.
Mr. Rugg said something about the experiment, but it was
all a haze to Adam. The words
One hundred degrees is boiling point
stared down from the whiteboard.
Adam wanted to calm down; he wanted this sudden anger to go away. But it was like gravityâhopeless to resist. He stood up. Five strides later, he had reached Jake and hit him. No one had noticed Adam leave his seat, not even Megan. A single spurt of blood shot out of Jake's nose and onto the science book on the desk: page twenty-eight was later given an arrow and the words
Jake fell from his chair and everyone else in the room backed away as Adam stood over him. Megan closed her eyes and breathed out deeply.
Mr. Rugg dashed from the front of the room to restrain Adam. He wasn't a big man, but he was wiry and probably would have been good in a scrap himself. But the moment had passed for Adam nowâhis anger evaporated as quickly as it had arrived.
Jake squealed his innocence from the floor. “I was just getting on with my work and this idiot came over and thumped me. He's probably broken my nose.” He wiped his face and held out his hands as if in surrender. “What have I ever done to him? He needs to get his head examined. Typicalâno wonder his parents gave him away.”
Adam said nothing. His head felt as if it was full of porridge. He had never done anything like this before.
Mr. Rugg marched Adam out of the room. Mr. Sterling, the deputy head, was just passing, as he always seemed to be when least wanted. He looked through the glass strip in the window and shook his head at the situation. Jake was inside, fingers prodding his nose. A group had gathered around him: boys asking him if he would get revenge; girls chuckling and pointing. Sterling didn't try to give advice, nor did he ask for an explanation. He treated everyone equally rudely, but he was rarely actually mean, and
Mr. Sterling slowly massaged the dark smudges under his
eyes. “Adam Grant. It's a disgrace that one of the smallest boys in the class has floored the biggest. And especially a boy as warmhearted as Jake Taylor. I'm sure you understand how disgusted I am.”
Adam wasn't sure. He thought there was a compliment tangled up in Mr. Sterling's reprimand, and maybe the whole thing was sarcastic. It was always hard to tell with Sterling. Though what he said next was very clear:
“You're suspended. Until Monday.”
Adam nodded and looked down.
Mr. Sterling leaned forward and spoke only slightly above a whisper. “Don't get caught being so rash again.”
Adam certainly heard an emphasis on the words
And that was it. Mr. Sterling strode off. Adam had two days off school.
Megan's garden was back to back with Adam's, separated only by bushes and a rarely used path that ran between the houses.
They had been friends since before they could remember, and people often joked about how they were like an old married couple. Adam had never previously thought about Megan like that, though recently he had begun to notice things about her that made him uncomfortable. Like how her hair fell against her cheek, and how her swimsuit clung to her. This was the one subject he couldn't talk to Megan about, and he pushed it to a corner of his mind.
That evening Megan appeared through the bushes that separated the gardens.
“He's grounded,” said Adam's adopted dad, who was putting away the mower. “He hit a boy at school and has been suspended.”
Megan knew: she was in the same class, after all. “Please, Mr. Grant, can I see him for a second?”
Adam's dad sighed. “Okay. But not for long.”
Megan dashed in and ran up the stairs. She didn't knock.
Adam lay on his bed in his usual blue shorts and tatty T-shirt, tapping a drumstick on his forehead.
Megan went to the window and half-sat on the ledge. “You
stupid. Jake says that he's going to get you,” she said.
“And hello to you,” Adam said, sitting up. “Look, Meg, I couldn't help it. Leo never does anyone any harm. And Jake is aâprat.” He wanted to say something worse, but Megan rarely swore.
Adam wanted to explain that Jake had also been looking at her, but he couldn't find the words to explain it in a way that didn't hint at jealousy.
“I have to write a letterâcan you believe it? To Jake! Screw that. I'd rather be expelled.”
Megan turned and looked out of the window. “Just write the letter. We all know it doesn't mean anything. You know teachers have to make it look like
being done.” She glanced unthinkingly at the bushes at the bottom of the garden. “Come on, we can write it togâ”
She stopped. Then her words came out very slowly and deliberately. “There's someone at the bottom of the garden, in the bushes by the path. He's looking up here.”
Adam tapped the drumstick from knee to knee. “Oh, it's probably that lunatic from two doors down looking for his cat again.”
“No, Adam. He looks much younger. And this guy's trying not to be seen. He's by that old milk crate.”
By the time Adam reached the window the hooded figure had gone, but it was not the first time the house had been watched. Nor would it be the last.
Darkness lurked in the tunnel, pressing against the walls, searching for glimmers of light to choke.
A faint rattling came from the rails, then a high-pitched whine echoed closer. The rattle became thunder, the whine a screech. Louder and louderâa mechanical thunder of wheels and carriages. A tube train was on its way.
Nick stood near the exit from the tunnel, backpack hung over one shoulder, school tie short and wide, pants low enough to reveal the red Hugo Boss brand on his boxers. He stood in the same place every morning, trying to get a seat in the last car. His mind was fuzzy with the early-morning thoughts of a boy who was three months shy of his fourteenth birthday.
Rats scampered away from the oncoming train, trampling over one another to hide from the wall of metal that swept away the darkness and replaced it with a blaze of lit cars.
Wires dangled from Nick's ears. “Hurry up,” he said into the space over the track. “Come on.”
The train hurtled toward the station: a twenty-five miles-per-hour wall of metal.
On the platform a hundred people stood in near silence. Arrivals came every two minutes, announced by a breeze from the tunnel as air was pushed ahead of the train.
A city banker stood to the left of Nick. She did not know that she should have been looking carefully at what was happening around her. But the mornings were always the same: drowsy people heading to work, iPods and iPads, scruffy kids, free newspapers. It was just another day.
The train raced closer, its rumble becoming a rattle, its light just visible on the walls at the bend in the tunnel before the station.
To Nick's right was a girl, slightly older than him, perhaps fifteen. She had dark brown hair and blue eyes. Not ordinary eyes; deep oceans of eyes. He admired the scatter of freckles on her nose.