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Authors: Emily Diamand

Voices in Stone

BOOK: Voices in Stone
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Ways to See a Ghost

‘A fresh and original story from a writer who is as unpredictable as she is talented’ Mary Hoffman,
Guardian

 

‘Diamand’s plotting is adept, and she excels at the perennial comedy of showing how childish and selfish adults can be compared with children’ Amanda Craig,
The Times

 

‘An exciting story, full of high-speed drama and breath-taking escapes’
Bookbag

 

‘I was enchanted, gripped and freaked out by this book in a way I haven’t been since
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman’ Liz Bankes,
Armadillo Magazine

Flood Child

‘Possesses all the qualities I look for in a novel and then some … An amazing, accomplished story’ Malorie Blackman, Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate 2013–15

 

‘Funny, clever and a towering adventure’
The Times

Isis spent four days in hospital, afterwards.

After she stopped being dead.

The first night she’d woken suddenly: her eyes wide in the half-dark, her throat gasping and gulping down air, her mind flooded with vicious images of the icy cold wrapping itself around her. Impossible memories overlapped. She knew that she hadn’t survived, she remembered dying – the swift up-pull, leaving her body. Yet she was alive again somehow, her chest rising and falling. Somewhere nearby a machine bleeped quietly and other people snuffled in their sleep.

She murmured, and her mum, Cally, was there in an instant, stroking Isis’s hair.

“Shush, love, it’s all right. It’s all right now.”

In the daytime Cally hardly left Isis’s bedside. She held her daughter’s hand, read to her, brought her treats from the hospital shop or watched telly with her. That afternoon, she squeezed Isis’s hand and said, “I have tried to get Michael – I mean Daddy – to come and visit. I know you must want him here. But the agency told me he’s working on a liner which is cruising in the Antarctic at the moment. They promised to pass on the message, but it won’t be possible for him to get off the ship until it returns to South America in three weeks’ time.”

Isis heard the anger beneath Cally’s calming tone. Isis felt it too; he couldn’t even be here for
this
.

She smiled a tiny bit, enough to let Cally know she understood.

“I’m used to it,” Isis said, even though she wasn’t, not really. The hurt nearly matched the pain of her bandaged ice burns and the nagging pull of the drip in her arm. But then Dad never made it home for Christmas, or her birthday, or even a spare week in the summer holidays. Not since Angel.

If Isis had died, would he have come to her funeral, or would there have been an excuse for that too?

“I’ll keep trying, I promise,” said Cally, squeezing Isis’s hand a little tighter. “Why don’t you email him when you’re feeling a little better?”

What would I tell him? “I froze to death. I flew above the world with a creature millions of years old, and my dead little sister brought me back to life.”

“No,” said Isis, as loudly as she could – which wasn’t much more than a whisper.

 

Only a few weeks later Isis was back at school.

On her first day back she hurried into the warm September sunshine, scanning the playground. The black tarmac was full of jostle and noise, children wearing their new navy sweatshirts and still-black trousers. Everyone was chattering, meeting friends they hadn’t seen all summer, catching up with news. A group of wide-eyed Year Sevens were being herded about by two older girls.

A few pale and silent shapes were drifting between the students: two girls playing hopscotch, wearing white pinafores over their long dark dresses, and a young boy in knee-length shorts and a green blazer, pretending to be an aeroplane. Isis ignored them, her eyes gliding over their misty outlines.

A moment later she spotted Gray. He was coming out of a shabby concrete building which the teachers called North Block and everyone else called The Fridge. He was talking to another boy.

Isis hadn’t seen Gray for weeks, not since the hospital. He’d been battered then, and silent with shock, but now he looked back to himself. His hair was cropped so short it wasn’t much more than black fuzz on his head, making his ears look bigger than ever, and his mum’s efforts also showed in his brand-new, slightly too big uniform and shiny-black shoes. The only hint of what had happened in the summer was a small scar on his forehead, pink and pale against his caramel skin. Gray was listening to the other boy, who was shorter, with a freckly face and mousey hair cut into a boy-band flick.

Isis made her way across the playground.

“Hi,” she called, a smile lifting her mouth. Her whole body felt lighter now that she’d seen him.

Gray and the other boy turned around.

“Isis,” said Gray, acknowledging her – but there was no answering smile, and his eyes flickered over her face, looking for something. “Are you… all right now?”

She nodded. “I’m fine. I asked Cally if we could go over to your dad’s, after I got out, but she wouldn’t even ring him.”

Gray shook his head. “I wouldn’t have been there anyway. Mum hasn’t let me go to his place since. She says he’s irresponsible, and we could’ve all been…” Gray stopped, glancing at his friend.

“It wasn’t your
dad’s
fault,” said Isis.

“I know, but all the same.” He hoicked his bag onto his shoulder, getting ready to go. “I haven’t said anything about…” He looked up, but in a reflex, as if hardly aware of the action.

Isis nodded, grateful he’d not said the word. Devourer.
Monster
.

“I wondered if you wanted to talk?” she asked, the words bursting out in a rush. She couldn’t say more, not here, but those days in August and the night that ended them had been filling up her mind, using all her thoughts. Gray was the only one who’d understand.

He didn’t answer, and his expression wasn’t what she expected. Gray seemed reluctant, even fearful. “Um, I can’t now,” he said.

“We’ve got to see Mr Gerard to register our UFO club,” said the flick-haired boy.

Isis laughed, not sure if he meant it.

“UFOs
do
exist!” snapped the boy. “Gray’s shot a film of them. It’s been on telly – he’s practically famous!”

“Oh. Yeah,” said Isis. She waited for Gray to correct him, but he didn’t. He only walked away, throwing a last comment over his shoulder. “I’ll see you around, all right?”

“All right,” she answered, although it wasn’t. She’d been counting the days until school started, waiting for the moment she could finally talk everything through with Gray. It hadn’t gone even a tiny bit how she’d imagined.

 

In the hospital, Isis had waited for Cally to talk to her about Angel, but after two days she still hadn’t.

“Mum?” asked Isis.

Cally smiled. “I like it when you call me that.”

Isis smiled too, then carried on. “Do you remember what happened down in the mortuary?”

Cally seemed to freeze for a heartbeat.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” she replied. “Seeing you alive then was the best moment of my life.”

Isis nodded, her head against the pillow. “What about when we held hands?”

Next to the bed, a small face peered up at them eagerly beneath a bob of curly blonde hair. It was a little girl, dressed in a pink party dress. Isis’s little sister, Angel.

“I holded hands too,” she cried. “I do it!” She patted the sheets with her pudgy fingers, but they didn’t leave a single wrinkle on the bedding.

Isis took a nervous breath, then continued, “Did you see Angel?”

Cally’s face was still, apart from a twitch of her jaw and the tiniest flicker of her eyes. “Angel is dead, Isis. She died five years ago.”

“But did you see her?” asked Isis, more urgently.

Cally shook her head, her face still blank.

“Not true!” Angel shouted, her fists thumping onto the bed now, though still without any effect. “Mummy seed me!”

Cally shivered, doing up the buttons of her cardigan. “You were suffering from hypothermia. Maybe you thought you saw Angel because you wanted her to be with us…”

“She
was
with us!” cried Isis. “She’s with us right now!”

And that was the only time Cally walked away from her in the hospital, standing without a word and leaving through the ward doors. Angel raced after her mother, coming to a stop only as the doors closed, their handles visible beyond the fabric of her dress.

“Mummy!” she shouted, stamping one foot. None of the other patients looked over. “Mummy!”

After a moment, Angel turned and ran back to the bed. Isis held out her arms, not caring if anyone was looking, and Angel climbed up onto her lap. Angel’s sandals didn’t mark the sheets, her body made no impression on the bed covers. Isis wrapped her arms around her little sister.

“You’ve still got me,” Isis whispered, “always and forever.”

“Always and forever,” answered Angel. But the words sounded mournful the way she said them.

After a few minutes the ward doors re-opened and Cally walked back in. She sat down by Isis’s bed, her face serious.

“Please don’t say things like that,” she said quietly. “Not about Angel.” Her voice quavered to a halt, and she took a
deep breath. “I know I’ve talked a lot about the spirits, and made you go to seances, and… all the things I’ve done. But those two hours, when they said you were dead… I realised I’d been making you live in the shadow of Angel’s death. Everything I did, all the plans I made, I was always looking back to her, even though you were right there with me. It was only when I thought you were gone, that I understood how much…” She shut her eyes, and a tear dropped through her lashes, but when she opened her eyes again she was smiling. “It felt like a miracle, getting you back.”

“But Angel…”

Cally shook her head. “Every day of my life I wish she were still here, but I’ve got
you
, Isis.” She reached out, and put her hand to Isis’s cheek. “Oh! You’re freezing!”

Cally started fussing with the blankets, pulling them around Isis. Angel pushed up with her arms, fingers splayed, and poked her head and shoulders straight through the covers.

“I here!” Angel shouted, scowling furiously at Cally. “I
here
!”

But the blankets settled without a hint of the little girl’s presence. And although Isis desperately wanted to
explain to her mum, she didn’t know how to, or which words to use. Instead, her five-year habit of silence settled back in.

Angel stood up on Isis’s lap, her chubby face level with her older sister’s. “I
are
here?”

Isis gave the tiniest of nods. “Yes,” she whispered.

“You tell Mummy?”

Isis wanted to say yes, she’d tell Cally and somehow make things right for her sister-ghost. But Cally seemed so sure she hadn’t seen anything in the mortuary. Isis had held their hands together and when she’d done that with Gray he’d been able to see what she could, Angel linking their sight. Maybe it just didn’t work with Cally.

“I’ll try,” Isis whispered to Angel.

“I’ll try too,” answered Cally, fiddling with a pillow. “You’ll see. Things will be different now.”

And that was that. Isis couldn’t talk about Angel, which meant she could hardly talk to her mum about all the other things that had happened out in the fields with Gray and the ghost Devourer. She’d been forced to hold it in, every word, waiting until she could see Gray again. He was the only other person who’d seen what really happened.

And now he was walking away across the playground. Isis stared at his back, the swing of his arms. Suddenly he looked like a stranger.

 

Isis didn’t manage to talk to Gray later that day either. They didn’t share any lessons, and at lunchtime he’d been with his other friends. She had worried that the other boys might start asking questions or make fun of her if she approached him then, so she went to another table instead, eating quietly by herself while around her everyone chatted and laughed.

In assembly that afternoon Isis watched Gray file into the main hall with the rest of his form. Isis was with her own class, which meant there was no opportunity to sit together. Isis let her thoughts drift as Mrs Dewson, the head of year, began her start-of-term speech. She welcomed the pupils back to school, and told them to be nice to the new starters. Just behind Mrs Dewson a tall thin man was wearing a navy blue suit and black-rimmed glasses. His hair was combed across his head, slicked down like it had been painted on.

“… this year you’ll be making choices about what subjects to study,” said Mrs Dewson.

The tall thin man darted in front of her.

“Every child will be properly dressed at all times!” he shouted, jabbing his finger in the air. “Any boy not wearing a tie will be punished, as will any girl with her hair incorrectly pinned back. I have a fresh cane this year, ready and waiting.”

No one paid him the slightest attention, and Isis made no sign of seeing him either. She didn’t remember him being around last year, but there were a lot of ghosts about the school today, and not just in the Victorian buildings. Maybe he was one of the ghosts let loose when she and Gray had torn open the ghost Devourer in the summer? Isis shivered, remembering the deathly cold of the monster as it filled the August night, its body swollen with all the thousands of ghosts it had consumed, a blackness blotting out the stars. She and Gray had destroyed it, preventing it from becoming something far more terrible. But they’d released spiralling swirls of ghosts in the process, and the effort had nearly cost Isis her life.

Mrs Dewson carried on, oblivious. “Now I’d like to make a special mention to someone who’s shown
outstanding qualities over the summer holiday. Gray Elias, would you stand please?”

His name jerked Isis’s head up. She stared, along with everyone else in the year, as he stood up. Gray looked as surprised as Isis, and embarrassed too.

“Gray did something very brave this summer, which should be an inspiration to all of us.”

Isis squeezed her hands into fists.
No, don’t!

“He risked his own life to help one of his fellow pupils.”

Heat rushed to Isis’s cheeks, and her stomach seemed to sink into her feet.

Mrs Dewson turned her head, surveying the lines of seated children. “Isis Dunbar, would you stand up please?”

Faces in the rows around her turned to stare. Isis got up slowly, trying to look normal and unremarkable.

“Pupils who don’t walk on the correct side of the corridor will be punished!” sneered the ghost, glaring at her.

Mrs Dewson spoke loudly to the whole year.

“Gray and Isis were out with their families this summer,
when very unusual atmospheric conditions led to a storm with intense lightning. I’m sure you’ll be as shocked as I was to hear that Isis was caught in it” – there were gasps from all around, now everyone was looking at her – “but with no concern for his own welfare Gray tried to get her to safety. He did this even though everyone else believed she was beyond hope.”

BOOK: Voices in Stone
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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