Read Half Bad Online

Authors: Sally Green

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General

Half Bad

VIKING

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First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2014. Published simultaneously in the UK by Penguin Books Ltd

Copyright © 2014 by Half Bad Books Limited

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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Green, Sally.

Half bad / Sally Green.

pages cm. — (The half bad trilogy ; 1)

Summary: In modern-day England, where witches live alongside humans, Nathan, son of a White witch and the most powerful Black witch, must escape captivity before his seventeenth birthday and receive the gifts that will determine his future.

ISBN 978-0-698-14376-0

[1. Witches—Fiction. 2. Good and evil—Fiction. 3. Family life—Fiction. 4. Toleration—Fiction. 5. Fathers and sons—Fiction. 6. Prisoners—Fiction. 7. England—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.G826323Hal 2014 [Fic—dc23 2013041190

Version_1

For my mother

Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

PART ONE:
THE TRICK

The Trick

The Cage

Push-ups

Ironing

The Trick Doesn’t Work

PART TWO:
HOW I ENDED UP IN A CAGE

My Mother

Jessica and the First Notification

My Father

My Mother’s Suicide

The Second Notification

Jessica’s Giving

A Long Way off Seventeen

Thomas Dawes Secondary School

More Fighting, Some Smoking

The Fifth Notification

My First Kiss

BW

Post-Trauma

The Story of the Death of Saba

Mary

Two Weapons

The Sixth Notification

PART THREE:
THE SECOND WEAPON

The Choker

The New Trick

The Routine

Lessons about My Father

Fantasies about My Father

Thoughts about My Mother

Assessments

Punk

A Hunter

Gran

Visitors

Codified

PART FOUR:
FREEDOM

Three Teabags in the Life of Nathan Marcusovich

Nikita

Cobalt Alley

Money

Jim and Trev (Part One)

Jim and Trev (Part Two)

Hunters

Arran

PART FIVE:
GABRIEL

Geneva

Gabriel

The Roof

PART SIX:
TURNING SEVENTEEN

The Favors

The Eagle and Rose

Trusting Gabriel

Annalise

The Fairborn

Back to Mercury

Three Gifts

Running

 

Acknowledgments

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Hamlet
, William Shakespeare

THE TRICK
The Trick

There’s these two kids, boys, sitting close together, squished in by the big arms of an old chair. You’re the one on the left.

The other boy’s warm to lean close to, and he moves his gaze from the telly to you sort of in slow motion.

“You enjoying it?” he asks.

You nod. He puts his arm round you and turns back to the screen.

Afterward you both want to try the thing in the film. You sneak the big box of matches from the kitchen drawer and run with them to the woods.

You go first. You light the match and hold it between your thumb and forefinger, letting it burn right down until it goes out. Your fingers are burnt, but they hold the blackened match.

The trick works.

The other boy tries it too. Only he doesn’t do it. He drops the match.

* * *

Then you wake up and remember where you are.

The Cage

The trick is to not mind. Not mind about it hurting, not mind about anything.

The trick of not minding is key; it’s the only trick in town. Only this is not a town; it’s a cage beside a cottage, surrounded by a load of hills and trees and sky.

It’s a one-trick cage.

Push-ups

The routine is okay.

Waking up to sky and air is okay. Waking up to the cage and the shackles is what it is. You can’t let the cage get to you. The shackles rub but healing is quick and easy, so what’s to mind?

The cage is loads better now that the sheepskins are in. Even when they’re damp they’re warm. The tarpaulin over the north end was a big improvement too. There’s shelter from the worst of the wind and rain. And a bit of shade if it’s hot and sunny. Joke! You’ve got to keep your sense of humor.

So the routine is to wake up as the sky lightens before dawn. You don’t have to move a muscle, don’t even have to open your eyes to know it’s getting light; you can just lie there and take it all in.

The best bit of the day.

There aren’t many birds around, a few, not many. It would be good to know all their names, but you know their different calls. There are no seagulls, which is something to think about, and there are no vapor trails either. The wind is usually quiet in the predawn calm, and somehow the air feels warmer already as it begins to get light.

You can open your eyes now and there are a few minutes to savor the sunrise, which today is a thin pink line stretching along the top of a narrow ribbon of cloud draped over the smudged green hills. And you’ve still got a minute, maybe even two, to get your head together before she appears.

You’ve got to have a plan, though, and the best idea is to have it all worked out the night before so you can slip straight into it without a thought. Mostly the plan is to do what you’re told, but not every day, and not today.

You wait until she appears and throws you the keys. You catch the keys, unlock your ankles, rub them to emphasize the pain she is inflicting, unlock your left manacle, unlock your right, stand, unlock the cage door, toss the keys back to her, open the cage door, step out—keeping your head down, never look her in the eyes (unless that’s part of some other plan)—rub your back and maybe groan a bit, walk to the vegetable bed, piss.

Sometimes she tries to mess with your head, of course, by changing the routine. Sometimes she wants chores before exercises but most days it’s push-ups first. You’ll know which while still zipping up.

“Fifty.”

She says it quietly. She knows you’re listening.

You take your time as usual. That’s always part of the plan.

Make her wait.

Rub your right arm. The metal wristband cuts into it when the shackle is on. You heal it and get a faint buzz. You roll your head, your shoulders, your head again and then stand there, just stand there for another second or two, pushing her to her limit, before you drop to the ground.

one

Not minding

two

is the trick.

three

The only

four

trick.

five

But there are

six

loads of

seven

tactics.

eight

Loads.

nine

On the look-out

ten

all the time.

eleven

All the time.

twelve

And it’s

thirteen

easy.

fourteen

’Cause there ain’t

fifteen

nothing else

sixteen

to do.

seventeen

Look out for what?

eighteen

Something.

nineteen

Anything.

twenty

N

twenty-one

E

twenty-two

thing.

twenty-three

A mistake.

twenty-four

A chance.

twenty-five

An oversight.

twenty-six

The

twenty-seven

tiniest

twenty-eight

error

twenty-nine

by the

thirty

White

thirty-one

Witch

thirty-two

from

thirty-three

Hell.

thirty-four

’Cause she makes

thirty-five

mistakes.

thirty-six

Oh yes.

thirty-seven

And if that mistake

thirty-eight

comes to

thirty-nine

nothing

forty

you wait

forty-one

for the next one

forty-two

and the next one

forty-three

and the next one.

forty-four

Until

forty-five

you

forty-six

succeed.

forty-seven

Until

forty-eight

you’re

forty-nine

free.

You get up. She will have been counting, but never letting up is another tactic.

She doesn’t say anything but steps toward you and backhands you across the face.

fifty

“Fifty.”

After push-ups it’s just standing and waiting. Best look at the ground. You’re by the cage on the path. The path’s muddy, but you won’t be sweeping it, not today, not with this plan. It’s rained a lot in the last few days. Autumn’s coming on fast. Still, today it’s not raining; already it’s going well.

“Do the outer circuit.” Again she’s quiet. No need to raise her voice.

And off you jog . . . but not yet. You’ve got to keep her thinking you’re being your usual difficult-yet-basically-compliant self and so you knock mud off your boots, left boot-heel on right toe followed by right boot-heel on left toe. You raise a hand and look up and around as if you’re assessing the wind direction, spit on the potato plants, look left and right like you’re waiting for a gap in the traffic and . . . let the bus go past . . . and then you’re off.

You take the drystone wall with a leap to the top and over, then across the moorland, heading to the trees.

Freedom.

As if!

But you’ve got the plan, and you’ve learned a lot in four months. The fastest that you’ve done the outer circuit for her is forty-five minutes. You can do it in less than that, forty maybe, ’cause you stop by the stream at the far end and rest and drink and listen and look, and one time you managed to get to the ridge and see over to more hills, more trees and a loch (it might be a lake but something about the heather and the length of summer days says you’re in Scotland).

Today the plan is to speed up when you’re out of sight. That’s easy. Easy. The diet you’re on is great. You have to give her some credit, ’cause you are super healthy, super fit. Meat, veg, more meat, more veg, and don’t forget plenty of fresh air. Oh this is the life.

You’re doing okay. Keeping up a good pace. Your top pace.

And you’re buzzing, self-healing from her little slap; it’s giving you a little buzz, buzz, buzz.

You’re already at the far end, where you could cut back to do the inner circuit which is really half the outer circuit. But she didn’t want the inner circuit and you were going to do the outer whatever she said.

That’s got to be the fastest yet.

Then up to the ridge.

And let gravity take you down in long strides to the stream that leads to the loch.

Now it gets tricky. Now you are just outside the area of the circuit and soon you will be well outside it. She won’t know that you’ve gone until you’re late. That gives you twenty-five minutes from leaving the circuit—maybe thirty, maybe thirty-five, but call it twenty-five before she’s after you.

But she’s not the problem; the wristband is the problem. It will break open when you go too far. How it works, witchcraft or science or both, you don’t know, but it will break open. She told you that on Day One and she told you the wristband contains a liquid, an acid. The liquid will be released if you stray too far and this liquid will burn right through your wrist.

“It’ll take your hand off,” was how she put it.

Going downhill now. There’s a click . . . and the burning starts.

But you’ve got the plan.

You stop and submerge your wrist in the stream. The stream hisses. The water helps, although it’s a strange sort of gloopy, sticky potion and won’t wash away easily. And more will come out. And you have to keep going.

You pad the band out with wet moss and peat. Dunk it under again. Stuff more padding in. It’s taking too long. Get going.

Downhill.

Follow the stream.

The trick is not to mind about your wrist. Your legs feel fine. Covering lots of ground.

And anyway losing a hand isn’t that bad. You can replace it with something good . . . a hook . . . or a three-pronged claw like the guy in
Enter the Dragon
 . . . or maybe something with blades that can be retracted, but, when you fight, out they come,
ker-ching
 . . . or flames even . . . no way are you going to have a fake hand, that’s for sure . . . no way.

Your head’s dizzy. Buzzing too, though. Your body is trying to heal your wrist. You never know, you might get out of this with two hands. Still, the trick is not to mind. Either way, you’re out.

Got to stop. Douse it in the stream again, put some new peat in and get going.

Nearly at the loch.

Nearly.

Oh yes. Bloody cold.

You’re too slow. Wading is slow but it’s good to keep your arm in the water.

Just keep going.

Keep going.

It’s a bloody big loch. But that’s okay. The bigger the better. Means your hand will be in water longer.

Feeling sick . . . ughhh . . .

Shit, that hand looks a mess. But the acid has stopped coming out of the wristband. You’re going to get out. You’ve beaten her. You can find Mercury. You will get three gifts.

But you’ve got to keep going.

You’ll be at the end of the loch in a minute.

Doing well. Doing well.

Not far now.

Soon be able to see over into the valley, and—

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