Authors: Tom Hoyle
Mrs. Tavistock continued primly, “If he
turn up, he will have some serious questions to answer.”
“He won't turn up.” It was Mr. Sterling again. “I went to his address on the way here.”
“You didn't mention that, Rob, um, Mr. Sterling,” Mrs. Tavistock said, smiling rather too enthusiastically. “I think we should talk about this.”
Like a crowd at a tennis match, Adam and his parents looked from Mr. Sterling to Mrs. Tavistock.
Mr. Sterling shifted in his chair and shrugged slightly. “The flat he claimed to have moved to doesn't exist. There's no number thirteen in the block at all. No
in any of the eight
flats. I asked. And the address he gave when we first did the checks now has a Chinese family living in it.”
Mrs. Tavistock continued, her voice making recorder sounds that danced around the subject, desperately proving that the school was not at fault, and thatâvery much in second placeâAdam's parents had nothing to worry about.
As they were leaving, Adam's dad turned to Mr. Sterling. “So that's the end of this business, is it?”
Mr. Sterling sniffed. “Maybe.”
Adam's mum was getting anxious. She thought she could smell whisky.
“It's strange that he chose that moment to strike,” Mr. Sterling added, almost as an afterthought.
“True.” Adam, with a frown, spoke for the first time. “Why did he watch us for so long? And why come into our garden?” Everyone in the room shivered a little.
Then Mr. Sterling again, with one final rumble: “Obviously no logic to these nutters.”
It was Megan's parents who insisted on visiting the police station. Megan's mother was a lawyer who was often there for one reason or another, and her father did something in the legal department of a bank. The entrance hall was busy with the usual mix of police officers, harassed victims and shifty characters.
Leaning over the front desk, Adam and Megan told the story in full, enjoying the questions and the setting. A policewoman took down every detail and promised to investigate. She clearly thought Mr. Sterling had made a mistake about the flat, but said they would check. All of the adults assumed they were dealing with an unhinged lunatic.
As they turned to leave, another policeman stopped them. He had three stripes on his badge, rather than just letters and numbers, and he introduced himself as a chief inspector. Adam remembered the rank, but missed the man's name.
“Ah. I've heard you are here about the incident in the park,” the chief inspector said. “Could you have a look at some mug shots in one of the interview rooms?”
This sounded even more fascinating. All of a sudden Megan and Adam were being taken seriously.
They leaned over a table and were shown some pictures of older teenagers. “No,” said Megan, and “No,” said Adam, one after another, sometimes together. Adam ensured they had to push their shoulders together to look at the pictures properly.
“What about this boy?” the chief inspector asked. “He has a scar.”
“No,” said Megan, thinking. “He's similar, but not quite.”
It was like an American cop show.
Megan thought, then said, “Scar?”
“Yes,” replied the chief inspector.
“How didÂ .Â .Â .Â ?”
said he had a scar.”
In the confusion Megan thought she must have forgotten, and the moment passed. Only later did she realize that she had certainly never mentioned a scar.
The events in the park and the inquiry afterward were soon forgotten. Adam and Megan were walked to and from school for a week and a long assembly on “Stranger Danger” was endured by everyone. But the soap opera that was Rock Harvest rapidly dominated everyone's minds.
The music was only half the interest. Any hint that a boy was actually attending
with a girl
was thought to be headline news.
Asa didn't play down his connection with Rachel. “I wouldn't
say that she is going with me, but let's just say that we'll be seeing a fair bit of one another. And when I say that I'll be seeing a fair bit of her, I think you know what I mean.” His eyebrows danced up and down.
Adam and Leo nudged one another.
Leo, to his deep regret, was not as popular with girls as the other two. He was the only boy in the class who could compete with Megan in exams, but this didn't seem to impress the opposite sex. “I think I'll see what's on offer when I get there,” he said, trying to convey bravado.
Leo and Asa turned to Adam.
“I'm not really that interested in girls at the moment,” Adam said.
“I knew it,” laughed Asa. “You and Megan are together!”
Saturday was the first day of half-term and the start of the festival. Euston Station was full of those heading to the site. Most were in their late teens and early twenties, but there were plenty of younger children accompanied by parents who huddled together like penguins. Scattered among the crowd were the professional festival goers: studs, piercings and dreadlocks marked them out as a distinct tribe. Large green backpacks and rolled-up sleeping bags hung from backs.
Adam and Megan stood with Leo, Asa and Rachel as part of a larger group that was going from their school. Asa's parents had volunteered to accompany them. They had the air of having once been cool, unlike Adam's mum and dad. Jake Taylor and his friends had gone down earlier to “get things started.”
The eleven o'clock train was already in the platform when the announcement came. “The train at platform thirteen is the Rock Harvest specialÂ .Â .Â .” The rest was lost in a cheer and a rumble as hundreds of feet poured in that direction.
It was standing room only in the cars. In Coach E, Adam was enjoying the opportunity to be very close to Megan, who was writing her initials, M.E.J., in steam on the window. But as Adam's thoughts began to spin faster and faster, Leo's face appeared right next to his.
“Phew, that bog stinks,” Leo said. “Someone must have left a turd on the floor.”
The train was about to pull away when a boy with a scar
leaped into the last car, Coach M. Those by the door resisted, but he was determined.
“Hold it, mate, we're full in here,” said a large Australian.
“I am staying on this train,” said the seventeen-year-old, staring fiercely at the Aussie until he turned away.
Also in Coach B was a group of four children. Oddly for their age, they weren't accompanied by an adult. No one noticed; they were just kids going to the festival. Four tickets out of seventy thousand.
They had been told two days before that they were going.
In what had once been a grand drawing room, Coron stood in front of children sitting on long wooden benches. Behind them, their arms behind their backs, were three other adults.
“Children, life is full of choices. Sitting still is a choice; running around is a choice. It is a choice to eat potatoes rather than stones. And it is my responsibility to teach you to make the right choice.”
Coron beckoned for a girl to come forward.
“Viper has served well. She has done what is right in the eyes of the Master. He told me that she deserves great reward.”
Viper stepped forward. She had dark blue eyes and freckles on her nose. Memories of her serviceâhelping in two important deathsâmade her proud. Viper knew nothing of life outside The People: her father had been one of Coron's first recruits, and she had grown up in the Old School House.
Coron continued. “Here taking a life would be a terrible thing. But vermin are different. Even we can kill rats.”
The children listened obediently.
“Viper has helped to rid the world of two disgusting creatures. And she has been chosen for an even greater task: to kill the remaining and most dangerous
. One that carries
The girl bit her bottom lip and smiled.
Coron turned to the other side of the room. “Cobra, come here.” Cobra's height and athletic figure made him a natural leader among the children. His unusual combination of brown eyes and blond hair were widely admired.
“Cobra will also go and help kill this rat. Cobra, I trust you.”
The slightest hint of pleasure passed across Cobra's face.
Coron continued, “Two others will join them. Asp and Python, stand up.” One girl and one boy stood. “You also have this exciting honor. But be wary: this rat has razors for claws: they can spring out and cut you open. And his entire body is full of burning poison. I know that you will stamp on him. Stamp on him and bury him in the ground.”
All four bowed slightly.
Viper and Cobra returned to their places. Asp and Python sat down.
“But not everyone always makes the right choice. If you put your hand into a wild animal's cage, we would slap you as a warning, to protect you.”
“Adder, stand up and come here.”
A boy of about eleven stepped forward. At age eight he had been found in a shopping center, trying to keep warm, escaping from parents who neglected him. His memories of that time were beginning to fade. He knew that things were better for him, and leaving The People was simply not an option. Only one person had left, and everyone hated him. No one else had gone, though one or two had tried.
“Adder has been to the Far Fence without permission. Not even adults would do such a thing. And you know why we stay away? Because of the
that may grab you and turn your brain into stinking filth.” Coron's face was tight and his teeth ground together.
Adder faced the ground.
“So Adder will be punished. One day he may have the honor
of meeting the Master himself, for I can see that Adder has learned much already. But today is a lesson. A punishment.”
Coron grabbed a fistful of the boy's hair. “I have decided that he will spend twelve hours in Dorm Thirteen.”
The boy considered pleading. His lips moved and he made a ticking sound in the back of his throat. Inside he was screaming.
Three or four dreadful seconds hung in the room. It was unusual for a child to be sent up to Dorm Thirteen.
In the instant before he was going to be sent away, Adder finally spoke in one quick burst. “Please-I-am-sorry-anything- but-that.”
Coron looked at Viper and smiled. “Very well.”
Viper smiled back. On the other side of the room, Cobra also smiled. He knew exactly what was going to happen next.
“Very well,” said Coron. “Twenty-four hours in Dorm Thirteen. And if you speak again it will be two days.”
Even adults struggled with two days in Dorm Thirteen. Few could endure three or four days. And those who stayed in Dorm Thirteen for a week always went mad.
Down the corridor in the Old School House was what could have been a police incident room.
Thirteen pictures circled the walls: the thirteen boys who had been born to single parents in London within an hour of the new millennium. Boys who could be the Imposter. Four were recent pictures of thirteen-year-olds; others were of younger boys. The youngest wore short trousers and was holding a yo-yo.
Twelve of the pictures had a neat red line drawn through them.
The thirteenth picture was of the one boy who remained alive: Adam Grant. The one who had escaped on millennium night and then gone missing. The Master had confirmed that he was the one. The Imposter.
Seven people stood in front of a display board. Labeled pictures
of Adam and his parents and friends were stapled to it; a schedule of his movements was linked to other material by pins and cord. A recent addition was a floor plan of Adam's house, his bedroom shaded in red. Though neither Adam nor his parents had ever seen his birth certificate, a copy was pinned next to an adoption letter.
Many hundreds of hours of detective work had been invested in this project.
On the right-hand side of the board was information about Rock Harvest. A finger tapped the words The Hill of Sacrifice on a map. “He will be taken here,” said a middle-aged woman. “This is where Adam will be killed.”
From the air Rock Harvest looked like an organized colony of busy insects, but on the ground it had the color and variety of a carnival. Nearly 70,000 people were crammed onto the site midway between London and Birmingham.
After a short burst of activity setting up camp, and experimenting whether it was possible for Adam, Asa
Leo to fit into a two-man tent, the group strode off toward the music. Asa's parents ambled away, their cool reputation withering fast.
In front of the main stage, a swarm of people bounced up and down waving their arms. Deep beats thundered from the distant band. Leo was sent out as a probe to see how far forward it was possible to get, but soon returned shaking his head and looking harassed.
Rachel suggested drinks.
“Yeah, what do you want?” said Asa, putting his arm around her shoulder.
Rachel was used to such attention. She used her thumb to pull his jeans down slightly at the back. “It depends what you're offering.”
Asa had wanted to get out of his league, but now that he was suddenly there, he was flustered.
“Er, a can of Coke?”
Megan said that there was someone good on the second stage, so they headed there, past short lines for funfair rides and longer ones for bathrooms, not seeing anyone they knew.
Here they could get near the front, just. The group was a new one called Test Tube Kids: they were at the rock end of disco music, ideal for Adam, whose body seemed to have a gymnast's flexibility, Megan noticed. Megan loved the dancing and found the experience thrilling but confusingâthe noise, music and lights meant that she couldn't concentrate on any one thing. “Keep away from anything that you don't like the look of,” her parents had said. She pushed the warning from her mind.