Authors: Michelle Harrison
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
Also by Michelle Harrison
The Thirteen Treasures
The Thirteen Curses
The Thirteen Secrets
For older readers
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © 2014 Michelle Harrison
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
All rights reserved.
The right of Michelle Harrison to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor, 222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB
Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-47112-165-4
EBook ISBN: 978-1-47112-166-1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
For my son, Jack
A wish come true
As always, I’m grateful to my family for their support during the writing of this book, but in particular to Mum whose cooking and cleaning provided me with valuable hours to write. Thank you, my little house elf! Thanks also to Janet for talking through plotlines and making suggestions, yet again.
To my agent, Julia Churchill: you’re the best. Thank you for going above and beyond, and for always believing in fairies.
Thank you to my editor, Elv Moody, whose observations and insights have made this a much better book, and to Ingrid, Elisa, Kat and the rest of the children’s team at S&S whose endless enthusiasm spurred me on long after the chocolate had run out.
Finally, to every
pesteredasked me for another book: I’m glad you did. I know it goes backwards instead of forwards, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless . . .
N A BUSY SIDE STREET OF LONDON, A hooded figure let itself into a small shop. Once inside, the person locked the door and checked that the CLOSED sign was displayed, then threw back the hood. A thin-faced, bespectacled man with shaggy grey hair, he appeared ordinary at first glance. Yet look a little closer and the tips of two pointed ears were visible beneath his hair – to those who were able to see such things at least.
Stepping over a pile of untouched letters on the doormat, the man hurried through the shop to a door at the back marked PRIVATE, a large, brown package in his gloved hands. Surrounding him on both sides were tables and shelves of the shop’s wares: clocks, watches and time-keeping devices of every description. In his haste, he bumped against one of the tables, knocking a small carriage clock to the floor and shattering its glass face. He did not stop, or even pause, however. None of the items in the shop, save for the contents of the brown package, held any value to him.
Pushing through the door, he entered a little room, the shelves of which were lined with yet more clocks in various states of repair. He set the package gently on to the table and, with trembling hands, began to unwrap it.
‘Please,’ he muttered. ‘Let this be the one. Let the search be over.’ From the brown paper wrappings, he removed an object and set it on the table. It was a golden hourglass, with two glass globes at either end, and fine, pale sand that flowed from the top to the bottom. The man peeled off his gloves and, holding his breath, laid his hands gently upon it.
Another dead end. This wasn’t the one he was searching for after all. With a cry of rage, he flung it aside. It shattered in a flurry of sand and glass and landed on a pile of broken hourglasses he had previously checked and discarded. His face twisted in temper, the man stormed from the room and descended a narrow set of stairs to the cellar below.
He barely noticed the damp, musty smell of the place any more. At first, it had bothered him, but since taking over the shop several months ago he’d grown used to it; the cold and dark, too. He spent most of his time down here.
He stepped over a stack of books to a row of candles lined up on a shelf. With a click of his fingers, their wicks burst into flame, sending a golden glow through the dark space. Every surface was cluttered; yet more books mouldered away in damp corners; grisly ingredients glistened in glass jars. Strange apparatus occupied several tables, and scribbled notes and diagrams were scattered at every turn. And at the centre of it all stood a large, black cauldron.
The man crossed to the cauldron, treading carelessly over a balled-up note he’d long since tossed aside. From a beam above the huge, black pot, a lacy dress hung like a corpse. The man lifted his hand to caress the faded white fabric, regret and longing etched into his face.
‘Some day, Helena,’ he whispered. ‘Some day, I’ll find it. And I’ll bring you back.’
Behind him, in a darkened corner of the cellar, something shifted in the shadows. Something used to being quiet and going unseen. The man half turned his head, and an unspoken question passed between them.
‘I’ve been watching, Master.’
‘And?’ The man’s voice was sharp.
The figure remained in the shadows, reluctant to step into the candlelight. It did not like to be seen, for good reason. Its face – if it could be called that – was terrible to behold.
‘I see the boy, but not how to find him. Protection keeps him hidden; it’s too strong for the vision to break through.’
The man’s lips pressed into a thin line. ‘Even for me.’ He stared into the cauldron, brooding. There, reflected in the cauldron’s depths, was the watery image of a child, but it was so blurred it was impossible to see his features or any of his surroundings clearly. The man scowled, chewing his lip. And then the scowl left his face as a thought struck him.
‘Of course,’ he whispered. ‘Why didn’t I think of it sooner?’
‘Master?’ the creature intoned.
The man stood up a little straighter, then scanned the cellar, looking for a particular ingredient. Once he’d located it, he plucked a small glass bottle from a shelf and dusted it off, then removed the stopper. From it, he allowed a single drop of liquid to fall into the cauldron. Then from a nearby table he took an old pocket watch and carefully wound its hands forward. Into the pot it went with a soft splash.
‘I’ve been doing it all wrong,’ he said, his eyes lit with feverish excitement. ‘Wasted years trying to track the object, and months trying to trace the boy, with no luck. But now . . .’
He peered into the cauldron. ‘Show me,’ he commanded. ‘Reveal the face of the next person the boy will meet.’ The cauldron bubbled in response. In the murky depths, the water cleared and then the vision changed. As it did so, the man’s expression changed also. For the first time in a very long while, he smiled. There, in the water, the face of a girl he had never seen before appeared. He watched as she walked up a path, arriving at the door of a quaint little cottage.
‘The girl,’ he breathed. ‘This girl will lead us straight to him. She just doesn’t know it.’ His smile broadened, giving way to a low chuckle. ‘Find the girl . . . and we find the boy.’
The Wishing Tree
ANYA FAIRCHILD SENSED THERE WAS something wrong with the place from the moment they walked in.
‘This is it.’ Her mother unlocked the door to Hawthorn Cottage and pushed it open. ‘What do you think?’
Tanya followed her mother into the dark space beyond the door, dragging her suitcase and her heels. Her eyelids had begun to twitch. She rubbed at them, wondering if some dust had flown up, or if it was perhaps the effect of the darkness after coming in from outside. She wrinkled her nose. ‘It smells . . .
Oberon, her plump, brown Doberman, clearly agreed. His claws clicked over the wooden floor as his large, wet nose took in the scent of the unfamiliar surroundings.
‘Well, of course it does.’ Her mother set down her own suitcase and reached for the nearest window, throwing the shutters wide open. Bright sunshine streamed in. ‘We’re the first booking of the season. It’s bound to smell a bit musty – the place has been closed up all through the winter.’
‘No, it’s not that.’ Tanya looked around the holiday cottage, trying to figure out what it was that was bothering her.
Her mother continued to open all the windows, flooding the place with light and fresh air.
‘Look how sweet it is,’ she exclaimed, pointing to the tiny kitchenette, where an old-fashioned whistling kettle sat on a gas hob, and mismatched floral teacups, pots and pans were arranged on brightly painted shelves.
Opposite, a living-room area held an inviting blue sofa, a small coffee table and a larger, white painted table with three chairs.
‘These must be the bedrooms,’ her mother said, moving to two doors at the back. She opened one of them. ‘Oh, Tanya, they’re lovely. Come and see.’
‘In a minute,’ Tanya replied distractedly. It was clearer now, the sound she had picked up on as soon as she had entered the cottage: a light scuffling that seemed to be coming from underneath the floorboards. She knelt down and put her ear to the floor, trying to locate the source. It was difficult to hear, for her mother kept calling out with every new discovery. ‘Mine’s a four-poster bed . . . and just look at the Victorian bathtub!’
Tanya covered the ear that wasn’t pressed to the floor and listened harder. There it was again . . . scuffle, scuffle, scratch. The smell was stronger here, too: an earthy, outdoorsy sort of smell. Oberon trotted over, his head tilted to one side, listening.