Authors: Debbie Johnson
Lily McCain is cursed.
With just one touch she can see a person’s future, whether it’s a good fortune or a terrible fate. Afraid of the potent visions she foresees, she distances herself from the world, succumbing to a life of solitude.
But at the touch of a mysterious stranger – who has powers of his own – Lily sees a new, chilling future for herself: one where she is fated to make a terrible choice...
Debbie Johnson is based in Merseyside, where she lives with her family. After a lifetime of retelling other people’s stories through her work as a journalist, she decided to make up some of her own. Debbie won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2010, before going on to complete
, her debut novel.
To find out more, go to:
‘A sizzling debut about goddesses, vampires and rock ’n’ roll. You’ll love Debbie Johnson’s sassy page-turner’
For my dad, who loved reading, and my mum, who always believed I could write.
Wish you were both here.
Lily McCain stood a few feet away from the crowd. She was dressed the same as everyone else – school blazer, knee-high white socks, purple tie – but something about her was different. Had always been different since she was six years old and her parents were killed in a car crash. Even the other kids knew she was odd, and instinctively avoided her.
She was thirteen now, and she’d already experienced a world of pain. The kind of pain that made boyfriends and make-up and the new Britney Spears or Robbie Williams single seem dull and irrelevant. The kind of pain that made it hard for her to enjoy gossip, or friendship, or school trips. Or anything at all.
‘This song is, like, a million years old,’ said Gemma Gardiner, a plump blonde with orange skin from her daily sunbed sessions. ‘So old I bet my dad has it.’
The song in question was ‘Ferry ’Cross the Mersey’ by Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the opening bars were blaring fuzzily from speakers stationed around the boat. The
, en route from the Pier Head to Seacombe in the Wirral. The day was grey, with drizzle slanting horizontally from a thunderous sky on to the bored school-children below.
It was only a river, but it was a big river. So big, thought Lily as she stared down into the churning waters below, that you could almost believe you were aboard some ocean liner, destined for a fresh start in the New World. Which, she decided, spotting a flock of seagulls pecking at a flotilla of old lager cans gathered around the base of the ferry, had to be better than this one.
‘What’s up, weirdo?’ asked Gemma, coming up behind her and giving her a poke in the ribs. ‘Thinking of ending it all? Just don’t expect any of us to jump in after you.’
‘Get lost, Gemma,’ Lily said, looking warily at the small group of girls that had followed their Queen Bee over.
‘No, I won’t,’ Gemma snapped back. ‘I always thought you looked a bit like a ginger witch … maybe we should see if you float! What do your reckon, girls? Should we duck her?’
The crowd behind her tittered uncertainly. Gemma was known for taking things too far. Last week she’d held Penny Fox’s head down the toilet for so long she’d blacked out.
Lily was terrified, but she stared Gemma down, locking gazes, noticing the way her eyelashes clumped together under a mascara overload. She’d obviously avoided Miss McDonough’s traditional morning baby-wipe attack to get rid of outlawed make-up.
Gemma, knowing she couldn’t back down in front of her disciples, reached out to grab Lily’s bony wrist, and twisted it, hard.
Lily jerked in pain, squeezed her eyes shut, and felt that weird thing happen. The weird thing that had started when she was six years old, when Mum and Dad went out to work one morning and never came back. The weird thing where she just … knew stuff. Stuff she shouldn’t know, and stuff she really didn’t want to know. Stuff that made her feel like throwing up. Gemma had touched her – and that was a very big no-no in Lily Land.
‘You need to stop using those sunbeds,’ she said moments later, staring at Gemma’s near-fluorescent face. ‘They’re going to make you sick. They’re going to give you something called melanoma. And they’re going to make you look really old and wrinkly and ugly.’
Gemma dropped her hand like she’d been burned with acid.
‘You’re fucking mental, you know that?’
Lily nodded. Yes, she knew that.
Gemma strutted away, glancing back over her shoulder and giving her the evil eye as she retreated in a cloud of disapproval and the scent of her mum’s Obsession perfume.
Lily shook off the image, as she’d learned to do, and went back to the side of the boat, leaning over and looking down. The off-white froth of the water slapped against the sides of the ferry as they ploughed on to their destination. Gerry continued to crackle on about life and Liverpool.
It was then that she noticed the man over on the far shore. He was distant, but she could see him clearly, like her eyes were superpowered, or she was looking through one of those telescopes dotted along the prom. He was dressed in dirty grey robes; a crucifix swung from his neck as he pulled some kind of small boat back on to land. He was … a monk. Like out of the films, but scruffier. A monk with a fishing boat.
He looked up, met Lily’s eyes, and dropped his wooden oars to the sand. He seemed as shocked as she was, and made a swift sign of the cross over his torso. She could see his mouth forming words as he shouted to the other monks behind him, running towards them and pointing back over his shoulder.
They were the only people there, on the shore. And there were no buildings, either; no dock wall or buoys … no ferry terminal, no factories, no terraced streets. No flotillas of lager cans. None of the stuff that should be there. None of the stuff that had been there moments ago. Just the water’s edge, trees in the distance. And the monks – about five of them now – running round their boat, all staring and pointing at Lily, a small, skinny figure at the side of the
As quickly as she saw it all, it disappeared. She blinked her eyes, stared harder: they were gone. The monks were gone. And the buildings were back where they were supposed to be, solid and grimy and grey behind the sheets of rain.
Gerry had skipped a few verses. He was on to the chorus, telling anyone willing to listen how much he loved this land.
Lily felt a rush of heat to her cheeks – felt what she could only describe as a blurring sensation in her brain – then fell to the floor, wet red hair straggling over her face.
‘Miss!’ yelled Gemma. ‘Miss! Lily’s thrown a whitey!’
My name is Lily McCain, and I’m a music writer for a newspaper. You might conclude from that information that my life is a roller coaster of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Well, one out of three ain’t bad, as the old song doesn’t say. And tonight, it was rock and roll. Again.
I drained the final few dregs of my beer, but kept hold of the bottle. I didn’t want anybody offering to buy me a new one. I’d had enough already, and my feet were feeling pleasantly fuzzy in my boots, toes tapping to the heavy bass beat of the band on stage. The Dormice.
They were, I’d been told, the Next Big Thing. They were going to be Bigger Than The Beatles. In my head, I always give these things capital letters: they are catchphrases I hear again and again. Along with There’s Never Been Anybody Like Us Before, and We Can’t Be Pigeonholed. As an arts reporter for the
, they are words that have been repeated to me a million times.
Also capitalised in my mind are the other phrases, the ones that go with them: Actually You’re A Bit Crap, You Sound Just Like The Beatles, and Please God Send Me Some Earplugs. Then there’s my personal favourite: You’ll Be Driving A Taxi In A Few Years’ Time.
Lily McCain, girl reporter. So young – ish – and yet so cynical. Still, at least this lot could play. The punk ethos is all well and good, but after the hundredth time listening to sounds that resembled cats being tortured with toasting forks, it’s a drag.
I’ve heard some wonderful music over the years. Soul-searing acoustics, heart-pumping rock, and even some Scouse cowboy-folk. In some cases, it was a privilege to be there at the beginning. But I’ve heard even more terrible music. If I had to do a pie chart on it, there’d be a huge chunk of mediocre, a sliver of great, and a fat wedge of awful.
The awful is made up of music that has sledgehammered my brain and violently assaulted my ears. In fact, I have the ears of a ninety-year-old, even if the rest of my body hasn’t yet reached thirty. But those ears were here tonight to do a job: to review the band in question for my weekly pop page in the paper. I’d try not to be too harsh: they were all seventeen – young, dumb and full of strum.
Music is a nasty business, and the Liverpool scene has its fair share of sharks swimming in melodic waters, but these guys were too young to know that yet. So I’d give them their write-up; give them a few hyperbolic words to send off to potential managers and record companies. Make their mums and dads proud. Mums and dads that were there that night, in the Coconut Shy, taking snapshots and beaming at their talented offspring.
I stood alone near the bar, far from the madding crowd. I don’t like being too near to people. Don’t like them touching me without my permission. Don’t like the uninvited brush of their skin on mine.
All of which makes my choice of profession quite an odd one, as I spend vast amounts of time in nightclubs, theatres and crowded gigs. But there is safety in a crowd: a certain anonymity that appeals to me. Some people know who I am, and will try to latch on, but it’s easy to keep my distance. I can make fake friends to chat to over a beer, share an occasional cigarette with outside in the rain, but whom I never have to see in the real world. It’s that type of environment. There is a high turnover of potential fake friends: young kids in bands who split over musical differences (The White Stripes would
kick Nirvana’s ass), students who grew up and moved on, the ‘businessmen’ who soon shifted their cash to more reliable investments.
You can be best friends one day, and they’ve moved to Prague the next. Which is fine by me. I’m weird that way. In fact, I’m weird most ways.
The band finished off their final song, the cute singer with the floppy hair doing a spectacular scissor kick off the stage. He won’t be trying that move in ten years’ time. Assuming he hasn’t popped his clogs from a drug overdose by then. Again, cynical, but I’ve seen it a few too many times. Even a hint of success brings a hoard of yes-men, all desperate to service your every depraved need. And showbiz types, I’ve learned, are needier than most.