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Authors: Tom Hoyle

Thirteen (4 page)

BOOK: Thirteen
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“Great line-up, guys,” said Asa, who was thought to be an expert on music, at least by himself. “The Stone Roses
and
the Arctic Monkeys
and
the Killers. I hope it doesn't rain as usual.”

It was at this point that the boy who swept the playground in the afternoon passed and glanced at Adam. He was the latest in a long line of scruffy characters employed, it seemed, to very slowly redistribute rubbish and leaves, occasionally picking something up. There was, of course, no reason why Adam should have spotted the same boy at the bus stop, in Mr. Rawley's Corner Shop, or reading a magazine on the bench outside Spar. But if Adam had pieced together the jigsaw pieces scattered in his mind, he would have known he had seen him five or six times before.

One event of great significance occurred later the same day. It would never have happened if Adam's bedside clock had not run low on power. Adam had never been good at getting to sleep, but he did like to sleep in and relied on his alarm to be up in time for school.

He sat up in bed in only his pajama bottoms, curtains open in case Megan had
her
binoculars out, and read a magazine. He was halfway through an article on snowboarding when he saw the battery symbol on his alarm clock flashing. He groaned, clicked open the back and saw that he needed two AAA batteries.

His desk drawer held many things: string, elastic bands, half a ruler, a picture from the paper of Megan Fox (why had he kept that? He could Google her), a memory stick that he thought he had lost . . . Plenty of things, but no batteries.

He padded downstairs, annoyed that his parents were out.

Afterwards, it seemed as if an unseen hand had guided Adam over to the desk in the sitting room, then toward the top right drawer, and then to what lay under the blue folder.

It was a report on Adam's adoption, and raised questions that he had only ever half-asked or been half-told.

Name:
Adam Thomas Grant

Date of birth:
March 13, 2000

Date of adoption:
March 13, 2003

It mentioned a review “because of the exceptional circumstances of the child's adoption,” whatever that meant. The 2003 date appeared several times in the writing that followed.

Adam had always known that he was adopted and assumed that had been from birth, or soon after. But he had been three! Adam felt faint and hollow. And his birthday was the same date as his adoption. Very odd. He tore into the desk, looking for more information. He pulled out whole drawers and tipped them onto the floor. Nothing.

Exceptional circumstances?
What the hell did that mean? He had been told his mother had died.

He went into his parents' room and looked above the wardrobe. In films and books, things were always hidden there.

Nothing.

Under the bed?

Nothing.

Adam then went from room to room, searching.

By the time his parents returned, the house was a sea of paper. Adam was crouched on the sitting-room floor, still in his pajama bottoms, a letter in his hand.

“When were you going to tell me? I was three—THREE—when
you adopted me! And what does this
exceptional
mean?” Adam jabbed at the page.

His parents looked at one another and his dad—his adopted dad—put his arm around his mum's—his adopted mum's—shoulder. They knew that it was time for the truth to come out.

His mum spoke first, “Oh, Adam, you know how much we love you.”

Adam felt his chin crease. No, he didn't want to cry. His eyes leaked, blurring his view.

“Adam, you have been everything we wanted in a son. We could not love you more if you were our own flesh and blood.”

Adam choked out his words. “I know that. I know
all
that. But I want to know where I came from. Who I am.”

His parents sat on the floor next to him.

Now it was his dad's voice. “We just don't know, Adam. But to us you have been a gift.”


Please
tell me,” said Adam.

Things unsaid for ten years were explained in seconds.

His mum looked straight into his eyes. “You were found in a lady's house. She was sixty-something and couldn't have been your mum. Tests showed that she wasn't related to you at all. And no one knew that you were there. She hadn't formally adopted you. It's like you just landed with her, just like you were given to us. All we do know is that she called you Adam—it was painted on your cot and written on papers in the house—so we kept your name.”

“So you don't know where I'm from or when I was born?”

Adam's mum and dad shook their heads. They did not know that Adam was a millennium baby; they did not know that his death was being planned.

They did not know the strange truth that others had worked out.

For Kylie had placed Adam on the steps of what she thought
was a hospital.
His name is ADAM
on an old lottery ticket inside his shirt.

But it was not a hospital. The sign had advertized something very different.

A white background. Bold red writing.

Big Prize BINGO. Tonight!

The lights were bare bulbs, bright and ugly. It was the old movie theater, limping on as a bingo hall.

The cleaner, Mrs. Gowing, had picked Adam up off the steps. She loved him and could not bear to give him away; so, without telling anyone, she had taken him to her home just outside London, in Luton. Despite being called Mrs., she had never married—and though her desire for a husband had passed, her yearning for a child had not.

She cared for Adam until, exhausted from a life of chores and toil, she died sitting in her chair and the postman heard a crying child.

8
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2013

Just over a mile away from the Old School House, a couple was walking their dog along a footpath. Unknown to them, they were being observed by a hidden camera.

“What's in there?” asked the woman.

The man peered to see how far ahead their dog had run. “Not sure. A stately home of some sort?”

As they returned along the main road, a red van pulled in. The words
Royal Mail
could be seen under a thin layer of dust. Leaving the engine running, a woman stepped out with a bundle of packages and letters under her arm. She pressed a buzzer on the gatepost. Before she could turn around, a man in a suit appeared. She wasn't sure where he had come from, but she smiled at him.

“Hello there. More post for the big house?”

“Yes,” she replied, pleased that these rich folk had security guards to take parcels to their door. “Not much—just a couple of packages and some letters. This one has come all the way from Vietnam.”

“Thanks, love. I'll take them up to Mr. Masters.”

With a wave, the postwoman drove off.

The security guard said three numbers into his walkie-talkie, then handed the delivery over to his fellow guard.

He stood on top of a manhole, a circular one just like tens of others across the estate. Underneath the cover was a shallow pit. And in the pit was a heavy cloth bag, with string attaching it to the surface. Inside the bag was a Heckler & Koch submachine gun, a Colt automatic rifle and eight live grenades.

The security guard also had a Browning handgun taped to his lower back, even when he had spoken to the postwoman.

The Old School House was a very different world from the one most people know.

Viper waited in silence for her history lesson to begin. Her essay, 1,200 words in neat handwriting on the subject of the Demon of Poitiers, sat on her desk. She could hear fragments of a geography lesson through the wall: “The Transylvanian Mountains will be important when the Reign comes. The inhabitants will be resettled and the entire area will be used by The People.”

Mr. Webb tapped his stick on the desk and the class stood. They chanted together: “The Master is watching; Lord Coron is watching; to serve one is to please the other.” Lessons always began in the same way.

“Today I've been instructed to say a few words about how close we are to the Reign of The People.”

They all knew the basics:

First, the Imposter would come. The first man, Adam, was created in 4000
BC
; Abraham revealed the Law in 2000
BC
; the old god used the man Jesus 2,000 years after that; and in
AD
2000 the Imposter was born. It was elegantly simple maths. Events exactly 2,000 years apart to the day.

Next would come the Reign of The People. They all knew their thousand-year rule would begin when the Imposter, Adam, was killed.

The world would turn to Lord Coron and The People, who would reign for 1,000 years. Lord Coron—visionary, leader, healer—would guide events.

Everyone knew this. It was obvious. You had to be evil or stupid to deny it.

They all knew that only one person could stop this glorious reign.

The Imposter.

A boy born at the center of world business and trade to a single mother.

A boy who united everyone in hatred.

A boy they had to find.

A boy hated even more than the Traitor—the one person to leave The People and live.

Both had to die. They all knew that.

And of the thirteen possible Imposter candidates, twelve were now dead.

Mr. Webb said, “The beginning of the Reign of The People is now very close. The Imposter has been found. He is the one we suspected all along. The one to escape Lord Coron at the moment of his birth.”

They all knew the story of Coron's glorious attempt on millennium night to free the world from the Imposter.

Their teacher continued: “The Blessed will be sent.”

And they all knew what that meant: the Blessed. Those who were special, raised above the rules that smothered ordinary people. Blessed killers.

Viper hoped that she would be one of them again. She and Cobra. Twice before they had gone with Coron himself. But this was the vital one. The Imposter. For real.

Please, please, let it be me
, she thought.

Outside, some children played a game that looked, from a distance, like rugby. But there was no ball. In this game, both sides tried to push a neutral person, called the runner, over their opponent's goal line.

No one knew of rugby, or soccer or cricket. Most of the
children didn't know of television, or had forgotten. There were no newspapers. No books from outside. Almost everyone under eight or nine had never gone beyond the fences.

The runner looked as if he was going to win the game of Mandown. It was rare for the runner to win, even rarer for him or her to escape unhurt, but Python was fast.

In the geography lesson, Mamba glanced out of the window, idly watching the game of Mandown being played out on the pitch. Suddenly a stick whacked down on his left hand. A stinging line of red ran like an angry river just above his knuckles.

“Mamba isn't concentrating. Again.” Mr. Sansom pointed with his stick to Mamba's right hand until it was laid flat on the desk.

Whack!

Everyone knew there would be more to come.

“You have been warned about this.”

Mamba hoped the punishment would be short.

“As you seem fascinated by the Mandown game being played outside, you can be the runner in this evening's game.”

Mamba looked down. “Yes, my teacher.” Evening games were played by the oldest kids and sometimes some of the adults. The runner was certain to be injured.

But the punishment was not over.

Mr. Sansom's stick pointed from boy to girl around the classroom. Finally, it stopped on Boa, a small and blemished girl. Though she had been born in the Old School House, she had never been popular.

“Boa—you will share in the punishment.”

The rules were simple. To show that wrongdoing weakened the community, and to encourage the group to correct its own faults, someone else shared in the punishment. Boa had been chosen.

“Boa will not eat until sundown tomorrow.”

Mamba was relieved. It could have been worse. He knew he must work harder to serve his master. To serve Coron. He rubbed his stinging hand and resolved to do better.

9
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2013

Not knowing where Adam was tormented and agonized Coron. It corroded him.

Adam. Adam. Adam. Adam
.

The name bubbled in his mind hour after hour after hour. Where
was
he?

Coron's mind was welded straight, unbending, like railway tracks heading into the murky distance. Though others born at that moment had been killed, their deaths left Coron unfulfilled. He had to kill
Adam
—the boy who had escaped him on millennium night.

Adam. Adam. Adam. Adam
.

Then, late one evening, someone researching at the Old School House found the story of a woman who had died and had been discovered with a baby boy who wasn't hers. And he was called
Adam
.

It led to one of the 5,400 adoptions in 2003. Why had they wasted so long investigating the previous year's cases?

For this mistake, people suffered.

Adam. Adam. Adam. Adam
.

Adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Grant.

Grant. Adam. Adam Grant
. Could it be?

Yes.

BOOK: Thirteen
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