The back door opens, and I’m flooded by light and warmth. Mum is sitting at the table, a mug of tea and a magazine in front of her. She looks up and sees me standing there, dripping wet like a drowned rat.
“Son, you’re soaking.” She runs for a towel.
“I’m fine, Mum, really.” I protest as she drags me over to the gas fire and starts drying me off, rubbing my hair furiously.
“Where have you been anyway?”
“Just in town with a few mates.”
Mum has been worried about me since the night Jamie was taken. I’ve never told her the truth. And why would I? She would never believe me anyway. She’d probably think I was mad. She might even take me to a psychiatrist. I’ve been putting on a face for her. I didn’t need to hide my shock at the beginning. Everybody was shocked. But I’ve toned it down since. I’ve hidden lots from her. I just don’t want her to be concerned.
“Get yourself upstairs and change out of those clothes,” she says when she finishes.
My room is where I feel safest. Which is strange, as the creature that I’ve been searching for, he knows exactly where I am. He’s been here. I still remember his eyes staring through my skylight window. Burning eyes, watching me from the other side of the glass. He hypnotized Jamie into opening the window, and then he snatched him out. He knows exactly where to find me. He could come for me any time he wants. But that would be a mistake. I’ve made a lot of changes since then. I’ve made it safe. It might not look it, but it’s a fortress. There are crucifixes everywhere. I hidden them, but they’re there. And that’s not the half of it. The window ledge, for example, is lined with a paste I made out of garlic and holy water. I’m protected here, like I am nowhere else.
I unroll a large map across my bed. I stare at it for a while. Then I trace my finger along the town’s disused railway track, following it upriver until it joins the main railway line. On it goes, heading for the urban sprawl that is the city.
I’m not going to be able to do any serious searching during the week. I have school to go to. As much as I’d like to bunk off, I can’t. I have to keep up the pretence of having a normal life, and besides I can’t cause any more waves than I already have. I need everyone to think I’m back to normal. There’s no time after school either. There just aren’t enough hours of daylight left. And there’s nowhere left nearby for me to search.
Next weekend. The frustration is going to kill me. I keep thinking of Jamie. Every day, every hour he spends with that creature he’ll be resisting, but his resistance can’t last forever. He’s suffering, I know it. And slowly but surely he’ll be losing, as his humanity is sliced away piece by piece. I only hope I can have more luck next week.
The least I can do then is make sure I’m totally prepared. I open my notebook and jot down a list of things I can do. I need to get on the internet and check google. I need to find out what disused railway lines the city has and how I can get access to them. I need to visit the library, do some research, scan newspapers and the internet for any strange disappearances or unexplained deaths, even reports of big cats.
When I finish I put my cheery face back on and go downstairs. Mum and I eat dinner silently. I’m not in the mood for conversation, but then I have a thought.
“Mum, where does Auntie Susan live again?”
Auntie Susan was Mum’s sister, and I knew fine well where she lived: the city. “It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve seen her. Do you think it would be okay if I went and visited her for a few days?”