Demon Thief

Chapter 2. FUGITIVES

Next thing I know, I'm on the floor of my bedroom, my baby brother Art cradled to my chest. Mum and Dad are shouting at me, crying, poking and clutching me. Dad gently takes Art from my arms. Mum crouches beside me and hugs me hard, weeping over my bald skull. She's moaning, calling my name over and over, asking where I've been, what happened, if I'm all right. Dad's staring at me like I've got two heads, only looking away to check on Art, his expression one of total bewilderment.

There's no panel of blue light. No monster. And no memory of what happened when I stepped through after the snake-hearted creature.

I learn that I've been missing for several days. Mum and Dad thought I'd been kidnapped, or wandered out and got lost. The police have been searching for me. They put my photo in newspapers and questioned all the people who knew me. Mum and Dad were frantic. Mum keeps weeping, saying she thought I was dead, that she'd lost another of her babies. I don't like the way she refers to me as a baby, but this isn't the time to correct her!

I can't remember what happened. Up to the moment I took that step forward into the blue light - total recall. After that - nothing.

Mum and Dad don't believe me. They think I'm lying or in shock. They ply me with hot chocolate in our kitchen and quiz me ruthlessly, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, neither of them in complete control of themselves. They pass Art back and forth, asking me questions about how he ended up with me. I guess he must have gone missing too, after I did.

"Can I hold Art?" I ask, during a brief lull in the questioning.

Mum passes him to me, watching us suspiciously, perhaps afraid we'll go missing again. I had a younger sister once - Annabella. She died when she was a baby. I can't remember much about her - I was only four. But I'll never forget Mum and Dad's tears, the misery, the loss I sensed in the air around me. I wasn't much more than a baby myself, but I knew something terrible had happened, and I could see how upset Mum and Dad were. I guess they never really got over that. It's only natural that they're more upset and worried now than most parents would be.

I bounce Art up and down on my knee, cooing to him, telling him everything's OK. "You're my little brother. I'll look after you. It's fine." He doesn't take much notice. He looks more sleepy than afraid. Too young to catch the bad vibes.

Mum and Dad stare at each other wordlessly then leave us alone for a while, going out into the corridor to discuss the situation. They don't shut the door behind them, and call out to me whenever I stop talking to Art, making sure we're still here.

They let me go to bed at one in the morning. Their faces are strained and red. Mum tucks me in and lets Art sleep beside me. She rubs his face tenderly as she pulls the blanket up around him. Starts to cry again. Dad tugs her away, kisses me, then takes Mum back to their bedroom, leaving me and Art to sleep.

I wake in the middle of the night. Mum and Dad are arguing. I don't know what about. Mum's saying, "Let's give it a few days. Watch. Wait. If nobody says anything, or looks for him..." Dad shouts, "You're crazy! We can't! It's wrong! What if the police...?"

I drift back to sleep.

Morning. More questions. Mum sits Art on her lap and feeds him, smiling and laughing wildly every time he gurgles at her. It's a good job I'm not jealous of my little brother as she hardly notices I'm here.

Dad's upset. He keeps glaring at Mum and Art. Throws more questions at me. Tries to help me unlock my memories. Asks me to take him through the night I vanished, step by step. I tell him I was in my bedroom, I was playing and that's all I remember. I don't mention the lights or the monster. The inner voice that spoke to me that night tells me not to. Says I'd only get into more trouble if I told the truth.

"Did you go to bed?" Dad asks.


"Did someone come into the room?"


"Was there somebody at the window?"

A pause while I think back. "No."

"What about... Art? Can you remember where... how you got him?"


He curses and tugs at his hair with both hands. Looks at Mum and Art again. Mum stares back at him sternly, holding Art against her like a shield. I don't know what her look means, but I'm glad she's not looking at me that way - her eyes are scary!

Dad phones the police and they come round. He sits with me while they ask lots of questions. Mum stays in their bedroom with Art. Dad said there was no need to talk about Art with the police. It would only complicate things. Since Art's too young to tell them anything, they want to focus on what happened to me.

I tell the police the same things I told Mum and Dad. The police are nice. They talk softly, make jokes, tell me stories about other kids who were lost or kidnapped. They want to know if I remember anything, even the smallest detail, but my mind is a complete blank. I keep apologising for not being able to tell them anything more, but they don't lose patience. They're much calmer than Mum and Dad.

I don't go back to school. Mum and Dad keep me in. Won't even let me go out to the park. Things feel strange and awkward. It's like when Annabella died. Lots of crying, sorrow and uncertainty. But it's different. There's fear too. Mum's especially edgy. Hardly lets go of Art. Snaps at Dad a lot of the time. I often find her shaking and crying when she doesn't think I'll notice.

Days pass. The police come back, but they're not too worried. The most important thing is that I'm safe and back home. They recommend a good psychiatrist to Dad, and suggest he takes me to see her, to try and figure out what happened to me. Dad says he will, but I remember what Mum was like when Miss Tyacke suggested a psychiatrist all those years ago. I'm sure I won't be going for counselling.

That night they have a huge row. Mum's screaming and cursing. I'm in my room with Art. They think we can't hear them, but we can. I'm scared. I even cry a bit, holding Art tightly, not sure why they're behaving this way. Art's not bothered. He gurgles happily in my arms and tries biting a hole through the new bib that Dad bought yesterday.

Mum yells, "We've been given a second chance! I don't care how it happened or who gets hurt! I'm not going to suffer the loss of a child again!"

I can't hear Dad's reply, but it seems to do the trick. Mum doesn't shout after that, though I hear her crying later. I hear Dad crying too.

The next morning, Dad calls me into his study. He has Art on one knee, a picture of Annabella on the other. He's looking from Art to the picture and back again, chewing his lower lip. He looks up when I enter and smiles - a thin, shaky smile. Tells me we're leaving. Immediately, this very night.

"We're going on holiday?" I ask, excited.

"No. We're moving house." Art tugs at Dad's left ear. Dad ducks his head and chuckles at Art. "Your Mum doesn't like it here any more," Dad says quietly, not looking at me directly. "Annabella died here. You went missing. Art... well, she doesn't want anything else to happen. To Art or to you. She wants to go somewhere safer. To be honest, I do too. I'm sick of city life."

"But what about school?" It's the first question to pop into my head.

"The hell with it," Dad laughs. "You don't like it that much, do you?"

"Well... no... but it's my school."

"We'll find you another." He fixes Art in his left arm, then extends his right and pulls me in close. "I know you haven't been happy here. Mum and I have been thinking about it. We're going to move to a place we know, a village called Paskinston. The children will be very different there. Nicer than city kids. We think you'll be happier, maybe make some friends. And you'll be safe. We all will. How does that sound?"

"Good. I guess. But..." I shrug.

"It's for the best, Kernel," Dad says and hugs me tight. Art laughs and hugs me too, and that's when I feel sure that Dad's right. Everything's going to be better now.

My last glimpse of the city is when I get into our car late that night. I don't know why we don't wait until morning - Dad hates driving at night - but I haven't had time to ask. It's been a rush, packing bags, going through all of my toys, books, comics, clothes, records, choosing what to bring and what to leave behind. Dad says we'll get the rest of our belongings sent on later, but I don't want to leave anything precious behind, just in case. I bombed all of the planes in my bedroom at 9 o'clock. Mum and Dad helped me. We destroyed them completely. It was cool! Even Mum enjoyed it.

As we're getting into the car, Dad asks if I want to play a game with Art, to keep him quiet. I say sure. So he makes me sit on the floor behind Mum's seat, with Art between my legs, and he drapes a blanket over us. "Pretend Art and you are fugitives. You're a pair of vicious, wanted criminals and we're sneaking you out of the city. There are roadblocks, so you have to hide and be quiet. If you're found, you'll be sent to prison."

"Children don't get sent to prison!" I snort.

"They do in this game," Dad laughs.

I know it's just a way for Mum and Dad to keep Art - and me - quiet for some of the journey. But part of me thinks it's real. The fact that we're leaving so quickly, at night, in secrecy... I hold Art tight in my arms and whisper for him to be quiet, afraid we'll be caught by whoever's after us. I feel like crying, but that's because we're leaving home. I've never lived anywhere else. It's scary.

Mum checks that Art and I are OK before getting in the car. She lifts the blanket and peers in at us. We're parked close to a street light, so I can see her face pretty well. She looks worried - maybe she's sad to be leaving our old home, like me.

"Take care of your brother," she says softly, stroking Art's left cheek. He gazes at her quietly. "Protect him," Mum says, her voice cracking. Then she kisses my forehead, replaces the blanket and we set off, leaving behind everything I've ever known.

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