So I know, I know… every other Saturday (Yep, every other Saturday. I made an executive decision and decided to make it like that because I’m mad busy at the moment!) I’ve been posting an On Writing post exploring the ins and outs of writing YA stories.
This post is a little different…
My aim for On Writing is all about, well, writing and encouraging people to pick up a pen or open a Word document and finding inspiration wherever they can.
So I’ve roped in Anna from Anna Scott Jots to help me out with this post.
You must’ve read the other To Be Written (Or, as the cool kids call it… TBW) post that Anna and I did. The rules are pretty much the same: Anna picks something for me to write about and I pick something for her to write about.
I believe you can find inspiration anywhere, whether it’s from photos, illustrations, landscapes, songs, poems… whatever! It’s just about finding it. This time we’re talking music videos. No, not songs… the actual videos.
So we’ve each picked two videos and challenge t’other one to write the beginning of a YA story inspired by it.
[Please note: This post is going to be looooong but when you read Anna's stories you'll know why I couldn't bear to cut them down.]
Let’s see how we go, shall we?
I don’t expect this is how they’d planned it at all. Although to be fair, I have no idea how they’d planned it, although I expect it wouldn’t have involved letting me loose on public transport on my lonesome. Maybe they didn’t have a plan at all. Maybe they were just going to wait and wait and eventually forget that I hadn’t left the house in several years. Or that I was even there at all.
Well, this is exactly how I’ve been planning it. Dr. Carroll said it would be triggers that do it in the end. Things that remind me of things that in turn remind me of a few other things, and then eventually I might be able to remember the name of our first dog (Barry, apparently) or my favourite subject at school, or what my cousin Christine looks like, or that our next door neighbour used to have a budgie called Brilliant Bill who I liked to imitate when I was six (Mrs. Briggs was very disappointed that this wasn’t one of the very first things that came back to me after I woke up, according to Caitlin). I didn’t forget everything. I can remember what it felt like when my mother was in hospital giving birth to Alastair (like standing on the edge of a bottomless ravine). But I can’t remember the name of Alastair’s boarding school, or why he’s scared of cats. And I can remember that I don’t particularly like the company of my sister Caitlin. But I can’t remember her middle name, no matter how many times I’ve been told it over the last few months.
I scan the street, from where I’m sitting on the top deck of the bus. Does this look like a good spot? Not quite busy enough for what I’ve got in mind. I jumped on the first one that said ‘city centre’, but this doesn’t look like the centre of anything. Maybe leave it a few more stops and see where it ends up. I’ve lived here all my life, but nothing looks familiar. Nothing. But if the triggers won’t come to me, I shall go and find them.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked mother where all my friends were. Surely they would have been concerned and wanted to visit? She said not to worry myself about anything and the most important thing is to concentrate on getting better. This is her answer to every question. So I asked father and he just smiled and patted me on the head. So I asked Caitlin and she said do I want the long answer or the short answer and then laughed like the evil person I suspect she is and wandered off to do more evil elsewhere. I didn’t phone Alastair because like I said, I don’t remember where he is and I’m not quite sure if I’m the sort of sister who phones her brother to ask his advice or not.
So then I thought, what sort of person was I? The sort who didn’t have friends? And the thing is (I haven’t told anyone this yet, not even Dr. Carroll), I’m having a few problems with the feelings. Or lack of. Although I’m used to my family now, there’s is a definite gap where something like love should be. If someone was to tell me there their shift was over tomorrow and a new family was to coming to take over, I don’t think there would be floods of tears on my part. And this is, understandably, very worrying. Was I the sort of person who loved and cared? Dr. Carroll says not to focus too much on the person I was and try and concentrate on the person I am now. I quite like the idea of being a nice sort of person, but when I’m with my family, I get the feeling that I’m turning into a not-nice sort of person. So this is why I’m here. I saw my escape and took it. When I realised that both parents were going to be away on the same weekend, I decided what I was going to do. It’s amazing what you hear when people forget about you. I think they got so used to me being asleep for so long, it became a habit to talk about things they really shouldn’t be in front of me. Like father’s mysterious phone calls every night, and mother wittering on about hotel bookings. With only Caitlin to keep an eye on me, it was going to be easy, so I snuck out and jumped on a bus. My first trip into the outside was not going to be tainted by my family.
And now to find someone, or something, to care about. To help. This is more like it. More people, more shops. A large square. Chairs and tables spilling onto the paving stones. I step off the bus and back into the world.
It’s the noise that hits me first off. Noisy noise. People noise. It’s fantastic. Cars, talk, echoes off the old buildings, clippy-cloppy heels. I look down at the beige ballet pumps that I took from Caitlin’s room this morning. Maybe I should have put a bit more thought into my clothes, but I have no clue what I normally wear, apart from pyjamas, so I also stole one her dresses and a baggy cardigan too. Back to the task in hand. Maybe an old person, a lady who needs help with her shopping bags. But this doesn’t seem like the sort of place where an old person might be dragging her shopping through. Too many suits moving too quickly. An old man is perched on a low wall on the surrounds of the main shopping area. I go and sit down next to him. Everyone keeps on flitting past around us.
“Hello. Do you need help with anything?”
“Am I not supposed to be sitting here?”
“I don’t know. I’m looking for people to help.”
“Why is that then?”
He looks like he’s had a tough life. I spare him all the details.
“I’m trying to be a better person than I think I used to be.”
He gives a big sigh and I’m sure I hear his bones creek as he shifts a little on his bit of wall.
“Well, I’m quite alright getting on with my business here, but thank you. What about him?”
He lifts up his stick and waves it across the other side of the square in the direction of a crowd of people gathered in one corner. I can hear a guitar being pounded on but I can’t see a ‘him’ though.
“Looks like he could do with a bit of cheering up. Here every day. Face like a slapped arse, wailing his head off.”
I smile at my new friend to say thank you before I stand up. I silently weave my way through the interested crowd. He’s in full flow now, bashing out the cords with his eyes squeezed shut. Just as he’s getting into the rhythm, he opens he mouth and this sorrowful sound emerges. It’s starts off soft, singing about the past, as if his voice has been put through a rose-tinted filter, but as it continues, he gets louder and you can hear the pain, singing about how the now wasn’t what once was. About how much he has lost. He still has his eyes closed and he turns with his back to the crowd as his gets everything he can out of his guitar. When he finishes the song, the people clap and there are a few woots and cheers. His eyes slowly open, and the contorted look of agony is replaced by a slight embarrassment, like he’s just woken up from a nap. He scratches the back of his head as looks at the grounds and smiles. Just a little bit. Some of the people throw some coins in his open guitar case before dispersing. Someone even puts a whole note in there. He takes off his guitar and rests it against the wall behind him then turns to get something out of his bag. He’s wearing tight jeans and a worn looking checked shirt with the sleeves rolled up. One of his strong arms is covered in a long, winding tattoo.
“That was a really sad song. I’m sorry, but I’ve only got enough for my bus fare home. I’d give you some otherwise.”
He stops what he’s doing and slowly turns. Whereas before he was in pain, now he looks…well still…nothing but still. He opens his mouth to answer me but then nothing comes out so he closes it again and takes a step forward. I suppose I’m going to have to start this one off.
“You see, the thing is, I conducting a little experiment and I’m looking for people to help. And I couldn’t find an old person, so I thought you might do, because your song was so sad and your face made it seem even sadder.”
“Should…should you even be here? You look…”
“I know. I’m sorry about that. I’ve haven’t been out much recently. But’s it’s okay, honestly. What’s your name?”
His expression is still glued in the same spot. I’m waiting for him to loosen.
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“Good. Hello James, I’m Miriam.” No. It’s no good, I still can’t say that name with my shoulders tightening. When they first told me, I laughed. Miriam? I asked mother to go and get my birth certificate so I could be absolutely sure. I certainly didn’t feel like a Miriam. I still don’t. And my parents calling me Mims doesn’t help much either.
I hold out my hand to him and he hesitates before he takes it. I can feel the toughness of his fingertips against my skin. But it seems to do something to his face too and it relaxes for the first time. He shakes his head and smiles, the same slightly embarrassed smile he gave the cheering crowd.
“So what was your song about? Did you lose something?”
“Um, yeah. Someone. I want to get her back, but I don’t think I can have her again. I don’t think it’s possible.”
And there it is. My mission. My operation.
“Well, maybe I can help you. You seem nice. I don’t see why there’s any reason why you can’t get her back if you put your mind to it. And maybe I could help you. And you could help me, by being part of my experiment.”
“So what’s this experiment about then?” He bends down to collect up all the coins and the one note from his case and shoves them in the pocket of his jeans. I watch his hand disappear and come back out again and something inside me is tweaked. It’s a strange sensation and I bottle it up and keep it for when I might need it again.
“It’s a long story.”
“Tell me the start and then you can keep going as we walk.”
His voice is like a hand flicking on switches in a darkened room. It’s not like I recognise anything in the room, but I realise this is the first time that I really, desperately want to know.
“I was in an accident and I nearly died, but instead of dying, I was just asleep for a while. And now I don’t remember a lot of things about before. But I’m not so much worried about what I don’t know, I’m worried about the sort of person I used to be, so I’m trying to help people to make sure the new me turns out nice, just in case I wasn’t before. That’s about it really. Sorry, the story wasn’t as long as I thought.”
“Who says you weren’t nice before?”
“No one. It’s more what they don’t tell me. Why are you staring at my hair?”
His eyes quickly dart back the guitar case and he fumbles around, taking his time placing the instrument in the case and smoothing down surfaces and fiddling with knobs.
“Um, I’m sorry, it looks…different.”
“Different from what?”
“From everybody else’s.”
My hair has gone rogue. I’ve done nothing to it in months. It’s long and wispy and the ends are a completely different colour from the rest of it. I can’t work out if ‘different’ is compliment or not.
He pulls himself up to his full height again and awkwardly places his hands on his back as he stretches.
“Would you like to go for a coffee with me Miriam?”
“Yes, Yes I would James.”
He lets a grin escape briefly. “Ok, I’ve just got to…just wait here and I’ll get rid of this.” He picks up the case. “I’ve got a friend who works over there and they’ll look after it. Promise me you won’t move. Promise?”
He runs across the square towards and smart looking café and is back in less than a minute with nothing in his hands.
“Why can’t we go over there, to the café where your friend works?”
“Oh, um, it’s a bit of a dive, to be honest. And overpriced. And horrible coffee. I know somewhere much better.”
I don’t tell him that I don’t actually drink coffee. I just follow.
He walks with both his hands in his back pockets and keeps giving me sideways glances.
“So tell me about your girlfriend. The one you want back. What’s her name?”
“Why do you want her back?”
“I miss sharing everything with her. I miss telling her about my day. I miss her laughing at my songs.”
“Why would she laugh at your songs? They sounded sad.”
“They didn’t used to be sad.”
I wonder where he’s leading me. We’re quite a way from the square now and have been wondering down a few cobbled back streets. A few studious-looking types have walked past, clutching bags and giggling. We reach a bridge over a small river, but we don’t join the people looking over the edge. It’s not long before we’re at an open green. There’s a small café on the corner.
“I’m just going to get us a takeaway.”
“Why can’t we go inside?”
“It’s a really lovely day. I know a nice spot where we can sit and talk. I’ll tell you a bit more about Em and then you can help me.”
Before I can ask any more questions, he darts inside. I watch through the window. He’s chatting to the girl behind the counter, and she nods before going to fetch his order. I watch as he rubs the back of his head. He looks anxious and excited.
And then he’s standing next to me again, handing me a cup. Before I know it we’re crossing the road and entering a wooded area. There is a pathway surrounded by overhanging trees and the dappled sunshine is guiding us through. We reach a clearing and there is a wide stump that someone has fashioned into a bench big enough for two. He nervously sits down and I join him, clutching my drink.
“Have you been here before?”
“Well, it’s quite possible, but wouldn’t remember, would I?”
“No, I guess not.”
He looks down and rubs his thumb along the lip of his cup.
“So tell me more about Em. Maybe I could talk to her, explain how much you miss her. I know it sounds strange, but I’ve discovered I’m quite good at explaining things. I could tell her that you’re very kind and you took pity on a girl who doesn’t remember much about anything and that you bought me a coffee.”
Damn, the coffee. I forgot to tell him I don’t drink coffee. I’m about to confess, but his eyes have become flooded with that sadness again. I think about what an idiot this Em girl must be, for walking away from James. Because James is rather lovely.
“Miriam, you should drink your coffee, it’s going to get cold.”
“Sorry, I should have mentioned before…I…” Cripes, he looks like he’s about to cry. This girl must have really gotten under his skin. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. One sip of coffee’s not going to do me any harm, is it?
I carefully lift off the lid, but before I bring it up to my lips, I look down and stare at the surface of the frothy milk.
“Oh, look, how sweet, you put an M on the milk for me.”
An M on the milk for me.
My breathing quickens and several things happen in a very short space of time.
An M on the milk for me.
I know why we called our border collie Barry (after Barry Humphries, because Caitlin use to laugh like a drain at Dame Edna Everage). I know that Alastair’s school is called Pengbourne, and I also know that I don’t call him Alastair, I’ve never called him Alastair, he’s always been Al. And I know that he hates cats because our cousin Christina (who looks a bit like a goat) once had a tabby cat that attached itself to the back of his angora sweater when he was twelve and father has to put the garden hose on it to get it off. I know all I cared about at school was Art. I know that Mrs. Briggs let me conduct a funeral for Brilliant Bill when he went off to budgie heaven. I know that the ends of my hair are a copper colour because that’s the colour I religiously dyed it for the last three years, along with keeping it short. I know that I love my family. As long as we’re not in the same post code.
An M on the milk for me.
An Em on the milk for me.
And I know what James look like without his checked shirt on, I know what it feels like when his fingertips are moving down the small of my back, or along the inside of my thigh. I know what he clothes smell like because I borrow them on a regular basis. I know that I’m the only person he trusts to cut his hair. I know that he calls me Em because I hate my name so much.
I know this because we live in a small bedsit off the main road through road into town and our prize possession is a vintage framed Steve McQueen poster that we found in a skip the day after we moved in. I know that I haven’t lived with my parents for nearly two years.
“They told me not to visit, that it would just confuse you. I phoned every day, in the evening, once your mum had gone to bed. Your dad said to give it time. I didn’t know what else to do.”
It was after a gig. We were walking back along the street and we passed a homeless guy sitting with his knees up around his ears. I only had a £20 note in my back pocket and we were going to get a kebab. After we put in our order, I started shivering, so James gave me his hoodie and we leant against the side of the van with our bodies and lips up against each other, my hands making their way up the back of his T-shirt, thinking about when we would get back to our home and our bed again. We laughed when the guy banged on the side of the door to tell us our food was ready.
While I was picking out some chicken with my fingers then licking them clean, I remembered the man outside the hall. I put my hand in James’s front pocket and lifted out the change from the kebab. I went to run across the road, but came back and took the kebab out of his hands too.
The man looks pleased with his surprise dinner. I felt good.
James was standing on the other side of the road, shaking his head and laughing. I poked out my tongue at him before I put my foot out to cross.
I know why he’s brought me here, but I don’t need to look the tree trunk anymore because I know what’s carved there.
We link out fingers together.
“I knew you’d come back in the end, Em.”
Where Starlings Pose.
I don’t know what it is that made me look behind the lifeboat hut.
The feel of the wind whipping at my coat, the sound of the distant waves beating against the pebbles, the sound of cars up on the carpark, fighting for the spaces left.
I don’t know what it was, but something made me look.
Placing my hand on the wind-beaten wall, the sharp sting of splinters in the tips of my fingers, I bent down. There was a flash of something blue, buried deep in the sand. I kicked at it with the toe of my knackered trainer, unearthing a bit more.
When I saw what it was, I stood up quickly, closing my eyes.
It couldn’t be. There was no way.
I turned away, scanning the beach, half expecting to see someone running away after playing a trick on me. The cruellest trick there ever was.
But the beach was empty, the tide completely out. I could just about see the streak of golden water where the sun’s last rays touched the beginning of the ocean. The metal statues, staring off into the horizon, stood in between fallen sandcastles, like detached giants that had just destroyed a village.
They looked even more eerie in the orange glow. Out of this world. Another Place.
There’s something in the air, I could feel it coursing through my veins, aching in my bones. It felt like I wasn’t alone. I scanned the beach again, just to make sure.
It was still empty, but it felt like he was there.
I turned back, looking at the doll that’s half buried in the grains of murky sand. I remembered when he first got it. They’d gone to visit Santa on the canal on a particularly snowy weekend.
About ten years ago, I think it was. Maybe more.
You can lose track, time goes so by so quickly now. I would’ve gone too but I was ill, so it was just him and Mum. He came back, face flushed and snow settled in his auburn hair, grinning and showing me what Santa had brought him.
It was this creepy doll; bright blue with white goggly eyes. I wasn’t sure what it was made of, plastic or rubber, some kind of synthetic. It looked like Morph… if he’d fallen into a fire.
He never left the house without it. I hadn’t seen it for eight years, but it still looked the same. The rubber was a bit scuffed and the vivid blue had faded slightly after being buried for so long. He was missing an eye; the white paint flaked off, leaving only a black chasm.
My phone buzzed and, when I pulled it from my pocket, I stared at the screen for a moment, the words registering. And when I saw who the text was from, the usual horrible feeling doused me, spreading from the tips of my ears to my toes.
Found anything yet?
I looked at the doll in my hand and an ice cold shiver creept across my neck. That was the thing with Will. He was always one step ahead of you, of everyone. He’d always been that way, ever since we’d been young.
I hadn’t even known I was looking for something until then. But it seemed Will did.
They say twins have a sixth sense. I have no idea who said that but someone did. You see it all the time, in books, in films, in the newspapers. There’s always show interviews with twins who say stuff like “Oh yeah, we have the same mind. We finish each other’s sentences. We always know what the other’s thinking” and then they look at each other with a mysterious smile that excludes everyone else.
Everyone believes it, but I don’t. I don’t believe it because Will and I never, ever finished each other’s sentence. We never shared anything, definitely not a secret smile. We were never a club of two. We never had private jokes. And I hoped to God we didn’t share the same mind.
He existed as a completely separate entity to me and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I turn the doll over in my hands and see the initials that my mum scratched into its back ten years ago.
His name snags at the lump in my throat, and a whimper escapes before it’s carried away on the wind.
There had never been a connection between Will and me. I know this. I know it for a fact. Because if there was then I’d know what happened that night. That night, eight years ago, when Liam went missing.
He was just a kid, my little brother, the biggest annoyance of my life.
If there had been a connection between me and my twin, I’d know why Liam and Will went out that night, but only one of them came back.
I still devote at least two minutes each day, thinking about how I ended up here. Even after all these months. I don’t mean how I ended up here. I mean how I ended up here. Because I was never first to be picked for the football team at school. I was never House Captain, I never got As in everything, in anything even. People never turned around when I walked into a room. I swear at least half my teachers wouldn’t even remember my first name. If they were still here that is.
When I shared a bedroom with Martin, there was never any question that I would get the top bunk. I didn’t even bother asking. And now, not only do I have the top bunk, but I have my own caravan. The whole thing to myself. Rogan moved out two weeks ago. He said it wouldn’t look right anymore, me sharing with someone. It wouldn’t be the ‘done thing’. I laughed at him and told him to stop talking out of his arse. He just kicked his heels and started rolling up his sleeping bag.
I bury my face in my hands and rub my fingertips against the scratchy stubble at the thought of Karina and Hayley turning up like they always do in the mornings. God knows what they’ve found to moan about today. I look at my hands and see where the thin layer of dirt has transferred onto my fingertips, making them look even grubbier than they were before. I’m scared that if something doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to forget what hot water feels like. All those long showers I took for granted. And then Martin or Mum would bang on the door and tell me to get a bloody move on.
There’s no use pretending I’m not here. Everyone knows where everyone else is. Not really that surprising when there’s nowhere else to go.
Karina’s the one person who doesn’t bother knocking. I don’t whether it’s because she hates me or because she’s always been a rude cow. A bit of both probably.
“I thought you’d be up by now. Making sure all the supplies and the log tally? Isn’t that what Tuesday mornings are for now? Or am I the only person who cares about these things?”
She doesn’t do talking. Only barking. “I can be up in ten seconds if I want to be.”
It’s best to be prepared. I could get dragged out of bed at any hours these days. Every outside noise, every scream, every shudder needs investigating. It’s just makes it so much easier, going to bed fully-clothed. Ok, so it means I don’t smell too pleasant most of the time but neither does anyone else.
She stands there with her arms crossed, tapping her foot so it makes a hollow sound on the thin flooring.
“Me and Hayley want to talk to you. About Rogan.”
I sit upright quickly, aware I look slightly less in control of the conversation if I’m still flat on my back. Of course, I whack the top of my head on the caravan roof. I am 6”2. This was never going to be an ideal living arrangement.
Her face is pulled back into a subtle smirk. Trying to ignore the gaff, I leap down from the bunk, still wearing the grey sweatshirt and combats from yesterday. “I told you. Rogan’s harmless. Being shy doesn’t mean he’s some sort of predator. And have you ever thought that he doesn’t talk to you because he doesn’t actually like you very much?”
“He stares. We don’t like staring.”
Sometimes I think she uses ‘we’ like the Queen would. Like the Queen used to. Mind you, you’ve got to cut people some slack in a situation like this one. I mean, she lost everything, we all did. You’ve got to let people be angry, take it out on someone else for a bit, let of some steam. It just pisses me off that I seem to be the only person to get it in the neck every single day.
Ok, so I don’t really know that much about Rogan. Only what he’s told me, which is very little and not all of it true, I reckon. Apparently both his parents were in the SAS and his Dad took a bullet for the Prime Minister once. Whatever. But I know a loner when I see one. He’s the sort of kid I would have been relieved to have in class because he’s even more of a loser than me.
I push past Karina and exit the van, taking in a much needed gulp of fresh air after another stuffy night. The ground still hasn’t properly dried after the few weeks of heavy downpours at the end of February. There’s not one person here who has a pair of jeans that aren’t caked in mud. We’ve only got two pairs of boots between the lot of us so whoever is on patrol gets first dibs and then whoever needs to get to the toilet block on a bad day.
This was the first place that popped into my brain when it happened because staying in the city really wasn’t an option. We had to get away from all the bodies. We had to get out in the open. There’s been loads of theories about why we weren’t affected by the gas. Not one of us is over twenty-one, so I guess that’s got something to with it, and someone else said it might have something to do with something that was done to us by someone when we were born. We never past get ‘somethings’ or ‘someones’ though.
I waited and waited for Mum and Mart to come back from work but they never showed. This group made their way down our street, knocking on every door, said I had to make a decision, had to get out. I’d been skiving off college, having a lie in. Saved by being a lazy bastard, maybe. I don’t even want to think about what I night have seen if I’d decided to go in that day. So I went with them. I still don’t know if I made the right decision or not.
And it was then that I thought about here, where Nan lived until she went into a home. And how me and Martin played an extreme game of hide and seek when I was about eleven that took me straight out of her front gate and around a few unfamiliar corners. Every street look liked the next. All neat green lawns and bungalows. All silence. There was none of the TV noise or laughing or screaming of our street. I eventually reached the endless stretch of beach, picking my way through a silent caravan park and the only person I saw was a girl on her bike, her hair stuck to her face by the strong wind.
And so in the chaos a few years later, I remembered the silence by that shore and I spoke up. Most of the kids we met on the way didn’t want to come, but I picked up Rogan when we were heading back out of the city. Sitting on a kerb, trying to throw pieces of glass into the bin on the other side of the road. As we headed north, we came across some other groups and I guess that’s when we soon realised if we wanted to survive, we had to be a unit. It’s not like anyone was threatening back then, but there was always this tension when we were face to face with others, wondering if they had the same plan as us. But I guess you need to find your territory first before you become territorial. That’s where I came in and I ended up leading the way. I always assumed there would be someone more dominant than me who would eventually take charge but instead I found myself filling in gaps in the awkward silences when decisions had to be made. The boy who wouldn’t even put his hand up in class, even when he knew the answer to a question.
When we made it, finally, the skies were just as grey as I’d remembered, the whole town just as silent, the caravan park just as empty. We only had to bury a couple of bodies. Not that many people want to come to Formby on their holidays in the middle of November. We made a pledge to sort out the rest of the streets eventually. Do it methodically. But over time, burning houses became the only answer. Clear it of supplies then torch it. It’s amazing what your mind let’s your body do when it knows you need food.
Rumours came in of another group on the other side of town. They’d taken over a cul-de-sac. We thought we’d do patrols, just to be on the safe side. God knows what we would have done if anyone tried anything back then. All we had were our fists. Going out for a search for weapons was inevitable in the end, especially once the explosions started.
I follow Karina to the edge of the park, towards the old site office where Hayley is sorting out the dry stores, but we don’t even make it that far. I hear the screams and the shouts first and leg it in the direction from where they’re coming from. It’s Declan, yelling something about a fire and the pub and then there’s a massive explosion coming from a few streets behind. I shout for everyone to get to the dunes as fast as they can and then me and Karina don’t even have to say anything. We dash in opposite directions, checking all the caravans, dragging anyone out who’s still in bed and shoving them towards the beach. Whatever they use for the bombs, the waves bounce off the buildings and you can’t keep you footing no matter how hard you try. I duck my head into as many vans as I can but I’m having problems staying upright. I can hear Karina shouting my name as she moves further away from the park, but as I turn to run, it’s too late. The force hits me in the chest and I’m thrown back. Thank Christ I’m not standing in front of anything too hard. I crash into the old green recycling bins and lay in a heap on the floor, winded and unable to gather the strength to move. I can feel it surging through my palms, the currents underneath the ground. The urge to stay lying there is almost too much, to see how long it will take before it eats me up. But I lift myself, every muscle screaming in agony and I stumble towards the shore, towards my unit, to wait for god knows what to happen.
“Why are they here?” Laura asked, leaning forward on her knees and staring out of the window to the street below. It was bright outside, the trees that lined the pavement were still only saplings and not yet able to provide shade or shadows. It was hot, too. Sitting in the stuffy attic, Laura was extremely aware that the patches under her arms were getting bigger. She crossed her arms, hoping no one would notice. Leaning forward again, she pressed her forehead against the double glazing, the sticker from the manufacturers still in the corner.
There were six girls sitting on the pavement. They were still in their school uniforms, the white blouses, the pinstriped skirts hitched up around their thighs. One of them was sitting on her hands, two were wearing tights and three were sitting on their navy blazers, shielding their bare flesh against the heat of the scalding tarmac.
Laura didn’t recognise any of them but that made it worse. The Haycroft Girls had their leader and everyone knew who she was. Jess was the one who took charge of things, she was the one who made the decisions and she was the one who ventured into enemy territory.
These girls weren’t Jess, but here they were on their turf. And they weren’t even nervous. They were just sitting there, eating Soleros and ice pops, talking about their day, tanning their legs in the sun.
If had been the other way round, if Laura had been sitting on the abandoned playground near the flats well… actually, there would be no way that Laura would venture into Haycroft territory. Just the thought made her feel sick. She’d heard the stories about what they did to Livingstone Girls if they dared cross the boundary.
Laura didn’t fancy finding out if the stories were true.
“What are they doing here?” Laura asked again.
“How am I supposed to know?” snapped Meg, shooting her a poisonous look. Laura opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it. Laura knew that being stuck with someone like her was the short straw but there was nothing she could do about it. She was a Livingstone Girl whether they liked it or not. And, Laura thought, whether she liked it or not.
Meg shifted next to her, the smell of her Impulse spray sickly in the stifling heat. She was in the same form as Laura but that was all they had in common. Meg was the star of the netball team, popular and knew how to apply bronzer. Laura knew that a protractor could be used for other things than scraping the initials of which boy you fancied into the science benches.
Laura drew her breath, her eyes widening as she watched the girls outside suddenly stand up. Meg pressed her nose against the glass. The six girls, still laughing and joking with each other as they brushed stray tendrils of their hair out of their faces and brushed at the pebbles that were stuck to their blazers.
And then they turned around, all six of them staring up at Laura and Meg’s hiding place. One of them grinned up at the two of them, too afraid to move, and waved.
“We’re going now! You can come out if you want,” she called. And then they disappeared.
“Shit,” said Meg, already standing up and heading down the attic stairs, her fingers moving quickly over the keys of her phone.
Laura stayed where she was, watching the girls disappear. How did they know they were here? The show homes were the Livingstone Girls’ new hiding place. Every day they’d walked past the not-yet-opened estate, full of rows and rows of houses that all looked the same, but it was only after what happened in the woods that they started to notice their potential.
Shelter. Comfort. Security. No parents.
Far better than the damp woods that were full of hikers and dog walkers.
And the police tape that still cordoned off the cave.
Laura shuddered at the memory and, with one last look at the girls’ retreating backs, picked up her school bag and walked home.
“You’re home late.”
Laura looked up from her bag, her keys hooked on her finger, and saw Luke, her next door neighbour leaning against his back door. His face was sunburnt and his lips were cracked. She blushed when she realised she was still looking at his mouth and looked away.
Laura looked up, noticing that there was a smudge on the lens of his glasses.
“I just went for a walk,” she lied. Luke nodded and she knew that he believed her. “What are you doing out here?”
“Mum’s working late and she’s lost her keys so I told her I’d leave the back door open for her,” he said, shaking his keys at her. Laura nodded but didn’t say anything. “They’re having this massive meeting about the changing of going home times. I’m guessing you’ve heard?”
“The buses were pretty empty today,” she replied, trying to keep the shock off her face. The changing of the Haycroft Girls’ going home times changed everything. They finished earlier now, meaning they had a head start.
This was bad news, but Laura couldn’t help but feel excited. This was the reason why she was allowed to be part of the Livingstone Girls. Luke’s mum was a teacher at Haycroft Grammar and the information Luke unwittingly gave Laura was vital. She couldn’t wait to tell Hannah, to see her face, and to be the one that provided the information.
“Anyway, why are we talking about that? Boring,” Luke said, rubbing his hand over his pink arm. Laura grinned at him, taking her phone out and checking she didn’t have any messages from her dad, telling her to get home. There was a message but she didn’t open it, wanting to stay outside for just a little bit longer.
Laura smiled and sat down on her doorstep. Luke smiled and sat down on his. They looked at each other for a minute and then Luke took a sip from the glass of his Ribena. He tilted it towards Laura and she accepted. She wiped her mouth hurriedly and handed it back.
If Laura stretched her leg out, she could touch his foot with his.
“Want to hear something hilarious?” Luke asked, looking up through the gap in their houses.
“Always,” she said.
“You know the two witches?” Laura laughed and nodded. Ever since they had been little, Luke had been infatuated by an old ramshackled house on the corner of their street. It was falling apart, but two elderly women had always lived there. As they had gotten older, Laura had realised that they were just two women in anoraks. But Luke was adamant that they were witches. “Well, I saw one of them with this massive crate of bottles with all these coloured liquid in.”
“I swear,” he said quickly. “I swear, she was carrying potions. Into her house. I saw it.”
“No you didn’t,” she said, grinning. He took his glasses off, rubbing them on his shirt. When he put them back on, he nodded again.
Her phone buzzed again, cutting their laughter short. A flush spread across Luke’s sunburnt cheeks and he pretended to look at something interesting on the wheelie bins. Laura sighed, looking at her phone again. The message she received earlier flashed up on her screen.
She stood up suddenly, her school bag tumbling off her knee, an avalanche of textbooks spilling out onto the floor. Luke scrambled to pick them up, laughing until he saw her face, ashen and still staring at the screen.
“Laura, you OK?” he asked, worriedly. “What’s happening?”
“What? Nothing,” she replied quickly, turning off her phone and shoving it into her pocket. Luke held out a pencil sharpener that had fallen out of her pencil case. “I… need to go. My dad…”
“Alright, wait… Laura,” Luke said, taking hold of her elbow. “You know where I am if you need me, right?”
She managed a weak smile, leaning against the door and listening to it click shut behind her. Listening to the ticking of the kitchen clock, Laura reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. She pressed the button and watched as the screen turned on.
Laura’s phone vibrated.
And there it was. The text from Jess, the leader of the Haycroft Girls.
We want to meet.
DUH DUH DUUUHHHHH.
Sorry, I felt I had to add that.
ANYWAY! So what do you think? Let’s give it up for Anna because… HELLO! How amazing are those stories? I think Operation M is my favourite only because I’m hideously jealous that she can write a short story like that!
What are your favourite ways of being inspired? Are there any music videos you’d love to write a story about? Any of these stories that you think we should drop everything we’re doing and write the rest of the story?
Please, leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts! Or, well, give your eyes a bit of a rest but then come back and leave a comment!