Super Dark (Super Dark Trilogy) (2 page)

BOOK: Super Dark (Super Dark Trilogy)
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Instantly, the lights came on in the hallway and an old lady in a flannel dressing gown appeared. “What on earth’s the matter, love?” she asked. “Has someone hurt you?’

I collapsed in her arms, sobbing. “Please miss, a man and a woman have kidnapped my friend. You’ve got to help me find him.”

The old lady ushered me into her living room and told me to start from the beginning. I was talking so fast that everything came out in a jumble, but eventually, she got the picture. She phoned the police and reappeared moments later with a cup of hot cocoa. When I sipped it, I finally stopped shivering.

Thirty minutes later, a patrol car arrived to take me home. As my parents comforted me, a detective took a detailed description of my kidnappers. I told him as much as I could remember.

A nationwide search for Elliot was launched. The media got wind of the story, and before I knew it, my name and face were plastered all over the front pages. Everything just seemed to snowball from there. All the big news stations wanted a piece of me. I made televised appeals, posters went up everywhere, and hundreds of hoax sightings poured in.

Our abductors were dubbed the Gruesome Twosome on account of their hideous appearance. At one point, a famous tycoon even offered a £50,000 reward for Elliot’s safe return, but it was never claimed.

Despite an extensive search, no trace of my best friend was ever found. Without any new information, public interest quickly waned and the police had to admit that they were no closer to solving the mystery.

My life would never be the same.

I had missed a lot of school because of all the media attention, and everywhere I went, people recognized me. Kids pointed at me in the street while their parents shook their heads and thanked God I wasn’t their child. I felt like a circus freak.

Broken and traumatized, I wound up seeing a counselor every month until I was twelve, to help me cope with the situation. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I had trust issues, insomnia, a fear of large crowds, and a dozen other problems I was barely even aware of.

Then, when I was fourteen, things got worse. My parents divorced, Mum was given custody, and we spent the next couple of years living like two hobos, moving from place to place and trying to make ends meet. Mum took what temp work she could to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads, but nothing was ever permanent. Nowhere felt like home. I lost count of how many times I had to change schools. We were always on the move, always on the run, but the past was never far behind us.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Becky said impatiently, bringing me back to the current moment. “Did the police ever find Elliot?”

The sun had gone behind a cloud and there was now a dark chill in the air.

“No, they didn’t,” I replied.

“How sad.” Her icy stare never wavered.

I glanced at my watch and saw that my lunch time was over. I snapped my book shut. “Listen, I’ve got to go. My next class is in five minutes. Maybe I’ll see you around.” Before she could answer, I swung my bag over my shoulder and headed toward the foyer.

St. Mary’s High School was a labyrinth of gloomy corridors and locked doors, a half-dozen Neo-Gothic buildings scattered across a wide expanse of badly tended grounds. There were so many rooms that I often got lost on my way to class. Armed with the crumpled floor plan I’d been given on the first day, I tried to find my last period history class.

I liked History with Mr. Treagus because it reminded me that there were people in the world with lives worse than mine. World War Two, the Black Death, and the Russian Revolution helped put my problems in perspective. The whole planet was screwed up. Somehow, I found this perversely comforting.

Mr. Treagus had a chronic smoker’s cough, a middle-aged spread around the waist, and a penchant for old tweed jackets with suede elbow patches. But he was passionate about history. When he spoke, his dark eyes gleamed like those of an excited hamster, willing you to be as enamored with the facts as he was.

After calling for silence, Mr. Treagus scrubbed down the whiteboard and scribbled the words:
August 28th, 1963.

“Right, does anyone know what happened on this date?” He rolled up his sleeves and faced the class. “Here’s a clue: it didn’t happen in the UK.”

Someone raised their hand. “The great march on Washington?”

“Well done, Enid!” Mr. Treagus boomed. “At least I know I haven’t been talking to myself all this time.”

The class tittered.

“Okay,” he said, “turn your textbooks to page twenty and we’ll continue where we left off on Tuesday.”

We were studying the American Civil Rights Movement, which was fascinating, but today I found it difficult to concentrate. I was nervous and on edge. Since my impromptu meeting with Becky at lunch, I felt sure everyone was watching me, maybe even laughing at my misfortune.
How many of my classmates have Googled me? How many of them are talking about me behind my back right now?

I slumped down with my hood pulled low over my face, hoping I’d blend into the background. Now I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before someone else approached me and started asking stupid questions.
If that happens, the only answer they’ll get is my fist.

“Everyone, I’ve got a special treat for you.” Mr. Treagus pulled out an old tape recorder from his desk and played us Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The words were so uplifting, the voice so melodious and righteous, I forgot myself for a while. I started to calm down a little. Perhaps I
was
over-reacting and being paranoid. Nobody was watching me, really.
Maybe I can do this after all.

When the bell finally sounded at the end of class, I packed up my things and slipped out the door before anyone got too close. After racing through the foyer, I left St. Mary’s behind and made my way to the bus stop on the high street. It had started raining heavily, and I’d forgotten to carry an umbrella; within a few minutes, I was totally soaked. But I only lived twenty minutes away, and the buses home were as regular as clockwork.

Eventually, the bus arrived. After swiping my card, I climbed to the top deck and took a seat behind a couple of rowdy school kids. I stared out the window at the pelting rain and marveled at how similar Elmfield was to every other town we’d lived in: a grim myriad of high-rise blocks, industrial estates, and Victorian terraces. Like every other town, the occupants were as gloomy and miserable as the weather. Elmfield was non-descript, unremarkable.
The perfect place for me to remain anonymous.

When I arrived at my stop, I climbed off the bus and ran down the street like a mad person, holding my bag over my head for shelter. The rain was turning my books to papier-mâché, but I didn’t care. It was worth the sacrifice to save my hair. I’d spent the whole previous night straightening it, and I had no intention of letting the frizz back yet.

Within a couple of minutes, I reached my street. Our apartment was a rental in the basement of one of those innocuous, run-down Victorian conversions you can find on any London street. The entrance was straight off the sidewalk and you had to climb down a few steps to reach the front door. We had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen. The apartment was pretty well-hidden, which I Iiked, but it also meant there wasn’t a whole lot of light in the place, even with the curtains open.

I ambled down the grimy stone steps, barely noticing the pools of filth and litter strewn across paving slabs. When I got to the front door, I glanced through the frosted glass and saw the hallway light was off. Mum wasn’t home from work yet.

I let myself in, hung up my coat, and headed straight for my bedroom, which was at the back of the house. It hadn’t changed much since we’d moved in; there was nothing in it but a wardrobe, a bed, and a cross-trainer. I didn’t own a computer, and most of my belongings—weights, books, CDs—were kept in a suitcase by the window, because I couldn’t be bothered to unpack. What was the point, when we’d probably be moving again?

I threw down my soggy bag, stripped off my wet clothes, and slipped into a Reebok tracksuit. Then I went to the bathroom, bathed my face at the sink, and took a long drink of water. For a moment, I gazed in the mirror and ran a critical eye over my reflection. Staring back at me was a pretty but tired-looking girl with large, hazel eyes and a dimpled chin. My short, black hair had lost most of its bounce from the rain, and my bangs hung loosely over one eye.
I look like a shaggy dog. I need a haircut!

Since the age of fifteen, I’d been dying my hair and keeping it short in an effort to erase the memory of the little redhead whose photo had been splashed about by the media. When I was a little redhead girl, everyone had pointed at me and felt sorry for me. Not anymore. I didn’t want anyone’s pity. I just wanted to be a normal teenager and forget that horrible Halloween night had ever happened.

I walked back to my room to start my workout. I did an hour or so of exercise every day: forty minutes of cardio, twenty minutes of abdominal crunches, and thirty minutes with my weights. I’d started working out religiously about a year earlier, after my doctor recommended it was a better cure for depression than medication. She was right. During the time I spent sweating it out on the cross-trainer, I never thought once about my problems. That was the only time I felt free and completely in control of myself.

When I’d finished my work out, I rested the chrome dumbbells on the floor and dried off with a towel. Then I decided to grab something to eat. I padded over to the kitchen cupboard, took down a mug, and switched on the kettle to make some coffee. Just as the water reached a boil, I heard keys rattling in the front door. Mum was home.

“My god, that weather is abysmal!” She shook out her umbrella, showering the linoleum with raindrops. “The commute to work was an absolute nightmare. I never want to see another human-being for as long as I live.”

I muffled a snicker. “Fancy a coffee? I’ve just put the kettle on.”

“Love one, thanks.”

I took down another mug from the cupboard and spooned in some instant coffee. Then I poured in the hot water, stirred it a little, and handed her the cup.

“Thanks, darling.” For a moment, she stood in the doorway with a vacant expression, sipping her black, sugarless coffee. Her long brown hair clung loosely to her face in soft, fuzzy curls, and her usually immaculate make-up was smeared. But even a hailstorm couldn’t have diminished her beauty.

My mother was slim and delicately put together, with eyes as large and as hazel as mine. Sadly, that was the only feature I’d inherited from her. Everything else I got from my dad: my pale complexion, my freckles, and even my dimpled chin. I’d always wished I looked more like Mum. Next to her, I always felt so short and stumpy, but she consoled me by saying she wished she had my “strong, athletic legs.” I had another word for them: chunky.

“How was school?” Mum’s question snapped me from my reverie.

“Okay,” I said with a shrug.

“Make any new friends?”

“Nope, but a girl recognized me today,” I replied sullenly. “A girl named Becky, from my English class. She started asking all sorts of questions.”

Mum sipped her drink in silent reflection. “Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. It always does. Let me know if she keeps bothering you and I’ll tell someone at the school to have a word with her.”

“No need for that,” I said hastily. “I probably just need to develop a thicker skin. But sometimes I get so sick of everything, you know? I’m tired of all the questions … tired of people dragging up the past.”

“Tell me about it.” Mum placed the mug on the sideboard and took out a packet of Pall Malls. She was seized by a sudden coughing fit, but a puff of the cigarette seemed to quiet it. “So, what do you have planned for the weekend? Anything exciting?”

I shook my head. “I’ll probably go down by Anne and Neil. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them and I keep meaning to go.”

Mum looked uncomfortable. Anne and Neil were Elliot’s parents. Despite everything, I’d managed to remain close to them. They regularly sent me Christmas and birthday cards, and twice a year, I traveled back to my old neighborhood to visit them. A couple of years earlier, Mum had severed all contact with Neil. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of their quarrel, but from what I gathered, it had something to do with money.

When Elliot was abducted, Dad and Neil had set up an appeal fund, and thousands of pounds of public donations had poured in. Then, when some of the accounts didn’t tally, Neil had accused my father of stealing. In the end, the matter was resolved, with Neil admitting he’d been wrong about Dad, but Mum still hadn’t forgiven him.

I hadn’t let my parents’ quarrel affect my opinion of Anne and Neil, who had always been so lovely to me. I felt it my duty to stay in touch. I owed it to Elliot. His parents were alone and childless now, and they saw me as a sort of surrogate daughter. How could I deny them my friendship?

Mum chose her next words carefully. “Darling, I’m worried about you. Shouldn’t you be spending more time with people your own age? I mean, Neil and Anne are great, but shouldn’t you, well . . .” She paused to take a drag on her cigarette. “You hardly ever go out anymore. When you’re not at school, you spend all day sleeping or on that blasted cross-trainer. I’m telling you, it isn’t healthy. A girl your age should be going out, having fun, doing things other teenagers do.”

BOOK: Super Dark (Super Dark Trilogy)
7.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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