PALINGENESIS ISLAND BOOK I 1 – 6

©2005 by Michael Skywood Clifford
The sequel to Wizicky Wazicky Wood

THE SWAP

CHAPTER 1

On a late July afternoon it seemed that all was not well in the large village of Pallingham. The sun warmed the terracotta brickwork of a house at the end of Wilmslow Close. Sounds of children squealing, dogs barking, and the rumble of distant traffic drifted across the garden.

A bedroom window opened. A young girl leant out and looked first to the left of the garden, then to the right, and then back again, flicking her hair back to keep it out of her eyes. Occasionally an expression of concern, of sadness spread across her face.

Then she seem to notice something. She quickly opened the furthest window along the bay and then reappeared with an exercise book. She ran this up along the inside pane of the newly opened window. A grin broke across her face as a red admiral fluttered out from the bedroom and helter-skeltered down into a bed of red roses below.

*** *** ***

The girl stepped back into her bedroom and sat on her bed, and leafed through the exercise book that she had used to free the butterfly. On a new page she began to write the date in the margin. Then she heard her name being called.

“Rosalind.”

She put the book aside on the quilt and hurried downstairs, following the glorious aroma of tomatoes and garlic coming from the kitchen. She arrived with an expectant and hopeful look on her face, which her mother noticed.

“No, she’s not come back, Rosalind. I’m sure she will, darling,” said her mum. “Sometimes they do go off for a while. She’s only been missing for a night.”

“Why did you call me then?”

“Could you take some empty bottles to the bottle bank in High Street. I forgot to leave them out for the collection. There’s a carrier bag full. You could have a look out for Mitzi at the same time.”

“Okay. I’ll go in about ten minutes. I’ll change when I get back.”

“I will likely have gone out when you get back,” said mum. “Help yourself to the curry.”

As Rosalind ascended the stairs, she heard her mum shouting, “Oh. Dad phoned, by the way,” said Mum.

“He’s staying out in Canada for another two weeks. They’ve extended his schedule.”

*** *** ***

Rosalind, carrying a thick plastic bag full of bottles, walked the short distance into town. She scrutinised the front gardens of the many terraced houses she passed, for any sign of her missing cat, occasionally calling out her name. As she climbed the light incline into town, she passed a clinic with a small blue brick wall, with monkey puzzle trees behind. Her eyes combed the area thoroughly but no cat could be seen.

“Hi Ros!” said a boy approaching at speed on a cycle.

It was Danny from the 11th year. She liked him a lot. She gave him a big grin. He was a laugh and great at football. “Got to fly,” he shouted, “I’m late.”

Roads converged at the top of High Street, where lofty red brick buildings fell away in perspective down towards the bottom of the large village. The building on the corner was a pub, with window boxes and a little fake lantern standing over its red doorway. To its side was a red wrought iron gate leading into a yard at the back of a Chinese restaurant. Next to this was a snooker hall

Although the streets were unusually empty for six o’clock on a Monday, the doorway of the Snooker club concealed figures.

A ginger-haired girl threw down a cigarette and stamped on it. She turned towards another teenage girl with a short weasel face.

“It’s alright for you, Sadie” she said, “you only go in when they threaten you with the courts. Always with your head in some black magic book, you are. You never get into trouble because you never go in.”

“Gimme a fag. I ain’t got no money this week, and me mum’s been hiding her ‘andbag,” she replied.

“Well, if you’re so good at black magic perhaps you can conjure up some fags.”

“D-d-d-don’t give her one, Marissa” stammered the Indian girl, grinning inanely. “S-s-she don’t deserve nowt. You might have that old bag on your tail, but s-s-she gets away with doing nowt.”

“I gotta go in tomorrow, or I’m for it,” said Sadie.

“We’ll call for you in the morning,” said Della.

“Well if I never…” said the first girl, Marissa, her bullish head now peeping out into the street.

“What is it,?” asked Weasel faced Sadie, turning towards the High Street.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea. Have you got them dressmaking scissors on you, Della?”

*** *** ***

Rosalind crossed over the road towards Video International, a shop displaying flickering TVs in its window and hanging a variety of satellite dishes from its rendered wall. Rosalind looked down the alley way adjacent to it to see if she could see Mitzi. Nothing. She knew male cats went off, but she didn’t think female ones did.

That was when Rosalind felt that she was in big trouble.

CHAPTER 2

She first noticed them out of the corner of her eye.

They now stood around her, blocking her path. Then, to her horror, they had their hands on her, manhandling her, and pushing her back against the TV shop window. In shock, Rosalind was unable to stop the carrier bag slipping out of her hand. She heard the smash of glass as the bottles met the pavement. Two of the girls had pinned Rosalind against the window. Now the well-built ginger haired one stared at her, wielding a pair of scissors. “Get your mobile out, Sadie, and video this! Little pretty smarty is going to have a new hair cut!”

Rosalind felt as if she was going to faint. An intense hissing came in her ears. A dizziness, and a sensation of being sucked through the window. Blue lights seemed to rain down from the sky. She felt as if she was spinning. The hiss got louder, rushing through her ears. Then she felt the hands release her. Everything was spinning. She felt herself sliding to the ground. The hissing was fading, the blue lights had gone. She began to feel a little normal again. She opened her eyes.

*** *** ***

She was alone. Then a boy was standing in front of her.

Rosalind recognised him from school. He was a short Chinese boy called Tchi. He offered her his hand.

“Oh no,” said Rosalind looking at the glass on the pavement.

“Don’t worry,” said Tchi, “my dad’s restaurant is over the road. I’ll go and get a pan and brush and clean it up. Are you okay?”

“I’ve seen one of those girls at school,” said Rosalind.

“Infamous they are!” exclaimed Tchi. “The one in the blue anorak in Marissa Chard. She’s always in trouble with teachers. She’s a real bully. The small one is Sadie Horrocks, a nasty piece of work as well. I don’t know the other one. There’s a court order against her for shop lifting. I can’t imagine how many ASBOs they’ve got between them.”

He grabbed Rosalind’s outstretched hand and helped her up.

“What happened?” he asked. “As I came round the corner I caught sight of their faces before they ran off. They were as white as sheets.”

“I don’t know,” said Rosalind. “It was all a bit weird.

She looked down at the scissors on the pavement. “They were going to cut off my hair, but they must have ran off when they saw you coming.”

“No. I’m sure it wasn’t me that made them run off.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind clearing this up? I was on my way to the bottle bank.”

“No, I’ll sweep it up into a bag and drop it into the bottle bank round the corner.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want these?” He held out the scissors.

“No. You can have them for your troubles.”

Rosalind felt she ought to stay around and help him clean up, but she felt low about everything, especially her missing cat. Yet she also felt a little light on her feet. She hoped she wasn’t going down with the flu or something.

He nodded goodbye and went across the road and into his father’s yard. She walked back home.

Mum had left a note to say she had gone out to see Aunty Wendy and would be back late. Rosalind helped herself to a little of the vegetable curry, did the homework which had to be in tomorrow and then went to bed at nine. She fell fast asleep.

*** *** ***

She was in a cold wood. It was dark, claustrophobic, the trees all seemed on top of her, as if they seemed determined to get in her way. She found moving along the path awkward, making it difficult to see where she was going. She felt afraid.

She came out into a clearing where the light lifted considerably. Earlier she had guessed it was the heart of night, but not here.

Then her heart took a great leap of optimism, for in front of her was an old friend. A friend she had not seen for years, although how many years she could not remember. It was Tapir, a black and white quadruped, the size of a small horse who could speak English. He was often very funny without realizing how big headed and realised he was looking troubled, fearful.

“Hello Rosalind beast,” he said, addressing her the way he normally did, “I am in great trouble. They are after me.”

“Who?” asked Rosalind.

“Stay here or you will be torn to pieces,” he whispered with gravitas.

He dashed off around the shrubbery and out of her sight. A few minutes later Rosalind heard a rumbling sound, as if an earthquake was imminent. She began to tremble. The small amount of light that shone into the clearing was now beginning to give way in patches of dark sky and her ability to see clearly was diminishing by the minute. It wasn’t just a sense of darkness but of overwhelming evil. Her mind flitted all over the place, from one unfinished thought to another, as if she had almost lost control of her mind. Now she could hear a dark, low squelching noise. Then she heard a terrible scream. It was the Tapir.

She didn’t know what to do. She wanted to follow where the tapir had led, but she felt rooted to the spot. She stood there for a minute shaking, then in great trepidation – with her heart in her mouth – she crept round the shrubbery. At first she saw nothing apart from a pathway between two spinneys of tall oaks. Through these she came into a clearing. She was horrified at what she saw.

She remembered the tapir lived in a caravan. Now it had been completely reduced to broken wheels, demolished walls and splinters of matchwood. Even the vegetation, small trees, shrubs, grasses and ferns around the area had been shredded, as if by some giant hover mower. The sound of squelching was far away in the distance now, but now she heard the sound of ringing bells. It got louder and louder….

*** *** ***

Suddenly she was awake. The telephone was ringing down in the hall. She heard her mum answer it. She looked at the bedside clock. It was almost midnight.

What a strange dream, she thought. And yet I remember that tapir from somewhere in the past. I had a dream about being in a wood with him. She yawned, turned over and within a minute she was back asleep again.

*** *** ***

She found herself instantly in the same place in the same dream.

She was standing over the caravan, looking around for the tapir’s body, when suddenly she heard a noise behind her. She jumped round and instinctively got down on her knees.

“Dear child,” said the woman before her. “Get up quickly.”

The woman was the most beautiful creature Rosalind had ever seen. She had the softest and warmest of faces, and her whole body radiated love, she was like an angel.

“Come with me,” she said grabbing Rosalind’s hand.

The lady, dressed in a long grey cape led her down a steep incline into a valley, not unlike a railway cutting in a hill. To their right lay a garden surrounded by tall hedges. The woman led through the garden and out of a gate on the other side, into a deserted village street. Across the road stood a post office and a library. In between these was a bench and a litter basket. “Come, sit down, we are safe for a few moments.”

“I have to tell you that we are in jeopardy. Evil forces are attacking us. I need your help, and time is running out.”

“Who are you?”

“I have many names that I am known for in the universe. Now look down there.”

Rosalind looked behind her and couldn’t see anything at first. Then in the gutter she noticed a drain. From it began to pour black smoke. It was thick and dense and opaque. As it came out and filled the air, its rate of input into the village street forever increased, as it spewed forth its black filthy oily smoke. The smell was of a billion filthy toilets and rotten socks.

Then Rosalind’s Granddad suddenly appeared on the street. He smiled at her and said, “Learn deep and think deep, my darling.”

He walked over the road into the church yard, She could see the village church behind it, gradually being blacked out, and she heard the peal of the bells, ringing, ringing…

*** *** ***

The light of the morning shone into Rosalind’s bedroom. She could hear the ringing of telephone again. She could hear her mother answering it, as she lay thinking about her strange dream. It had been so vivid. Then she thought about her missing cat. Had she come back? She quickly washed and dressed and went down for breakfast.

Mum was looking very upset when Rosalind arrived.

“It’s not bad news about Mitzi, is it?” asked Rosalind, her face crestfallen.

“The telephone call? No. It’s bad news though. You’d better sit down.” Rosalind stayed where she was, waiting on her mother’s words. “It’s your granddad. He was taken ill yesterday afternoon. He’s in the Nightingale Hospital.”

“I had a dream about Granddad. What’s wrong with him?”

“They’re not sure. He could have fallen down. The lady who cleans up for him found him. She lives in the neighbouring flat.”

“Is he badly hurt?”

“They don’t know. He’s a bit shocked.”

“How terrible.”

“I had a phone call last night.”

“Yes. It woke me up. Who was the one this morning from?”

“That was strange, that was from the police.”

“The police?”

“Not long after Granddad had gone off to hospital, within a couple of hours, his flat was broken into. The cleaning lady heard strange sounds coming from his flat. As she knew he was in hospital she couldn’t understand it. She phoned the police, but whoever was in there had gone by the time they arrived. The lights were on and the windows were wide open.”

“What has been stolen?”

“They’re not sure. The cleaner didn’t noticed anything missing – and she goes in there often – but they won’t be completely sure until granddad comes back and checks through everything.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” said Rosalind.

“We’ll go and visit him this evening. But I’ve got to be off. I’ve got so much on at work.”

“I’ll sort out my own breakfast, mum. You don’t need to drop me off at school.”

“I’m afraid Mitzi’s not come back.”

“That means she’s been away two nights. I’m worried.”

“I’ve got to go. Bye Rosalind.”

“Things are not going well,” said Rosalind lifting up a spoonful of Weetabix.

But things were to get worse.

*** *** ***

Twenty minutes later Rosalind went off in the sunshine to school. As she passed St. Paul’s Church, she climbed the steps to see if the door was unlocked. She went in and lit two candles, one for her granddad and one for her cat. She prayed at a pew and then came out into the bright daylight and continued her way to school. She didn’t notice who was behind her as she came out of the church, but she had been noticed.

“It’s that stuck up cow from 9B,” said Sadie, fifty metres further down the road.

“Oh. She’s a little Christian, is she? That ought to get your goat, Sadie.”

“I think we should sort out this little stuck up cow once and for all,” retorted Sadie.

“Good idea. Let’s find out which class she’s in just before break.”

CHAPTER 3

“I’m coming round to collect in your projects on the medicinal qualities of herbs and spices.”

“I ain’t quite finished miss,” said Julie.

“Julie I told you twice last week when the deadline for this project was. I’ll have to take it in anyway.”

“Oh Miss,”

Miss Millicent came round the class, collecting the folders. She collected Rosalind’s. Marie added hers on top.

“I’ll be interested to read yours,” said Miss Millicent smiling at the American girl. “They certainly gave you a good science grounding in Boston USA, Marie.”

“Yes Miss,” said the girl, giving a big grin, showing her splendid white teeth.

“How are you getting on this year?” asked the teacher.

“When I first arrived in England and came to this school I was a bit lost. You helped me a lot last year. This year Rosalind had been helping me a lot,” said Marie.

“Well done Rosalind,” said Miss Millicent, “Keep up the good work.”

*** *** ***

As the two girls walked together out of class, a boy came up, he grinned at Marie. It was Danny.

“Hi Marie. How are you getting on with Ms. Millicent? She’s my form teacher.”

“She was mine last year. She knows her stuff,” she said

“You actually learn something,” said Rosalind, wanting to join in.

“I wondered if you fancied auditioning for a part in end of term school play? We’re looking for a black girl to play Juliet,” said Danny.

“Cool,” said Marie.

“I’d like a go at drama,” interjected Rosalind hopefully.

“You as well. We could find you something I’m sure. I’ll see both of you down there in the music department next Monday after school then.”

As he walked off, Ros’s heart thumped. “Oh he’s lovely,” she said.

“Yes. Don’t worry I’m not after him,” said Marie.

*** *** ***

Rosalind needed to go to the toilet during break. Marie Said she’d come and find her after she had got some food in her body. “We’re in the Science block next lesson,” said Marie.

Rosalind walked over to Block E, the science faculty. On her left was the girl’s toilets. She went in, she had the place to herself.

But she wasn’t alone for long. Almost as soon as she had arrived, three figures slipped in behind her. She made her turn round. She gasped in horror.

She made an effort to bolt past them out of the door, but they quickly formed together and blocked her way.

Keep the door closed,” shouted Marissa to Della. “And don’t let anyone in.”

“I-I-I’ll try,” she stammered.

“Leave me alone,” shouted Rosalind as the other two girls approached her, the weasel faced one with a knife in her hand.

“We’re going to sort you out, you little Christian,” said the ginger haired Marissa. “We’re going to give you a little tattoo on your arm.”

“We’re going to inscribe you with the number of the beast, the devil, Satan: 666,” said Sadie, doing a little hand dance in the air with the knife.

Rosalind tried to bolt again. She screamed as she charged through them, but they grabbed at her clothes and tripped her to the ground. Then she was firmly pinned to the floor. “Come here, Della!” shouted Sadie as she prepared to make a mark on Rosalind’s arm.

Della rushed forward and, doing as instructed, pinned Ros’s arms up above her head, while the large Marissa sat on her body. Sadie wielded the knife just above Ros’s left arm, the jumper having been rolled up to reveal her bare flesh. Ros kicked and screamed but no way could she dislodge Marissa. Della was now kneeling on her hands, causing Rosalind much pain. Blood began to trickle out of the incision in Rosalind’s skin, as the knife went in.

Just at that moment the toilet door swung open and Maria and another girl, Trudy, jaunted in. They quickly saw what was going on.

Marissa spat at them. She screamed at Marie using the foulest and racist language she could summon. Marie – seeing that the situation was critical – decided in a split second that confrontation was not the answer. She fled the toilet, leaving Trudy standing there gawping. Marie was fortunate enough to find Mrs. Hemplewaite passing, who rushed back with her to the toilet.

But the girls had made themselves scarce. Rosalind was washing her bleeding arm in the sink. Trudy was nursing a her shoulder. “I tried to stop them,” she said.

“Thank God you both came in,” said Rosalind.

“What have they done to you?” asked the teacher.

Rosalind explained what had happened. “They only made a small cut. It will heal,” she said, holding up her arm for them all to see.

“This won’t do at all,” said Mrs. Hemplewaite. “I’m going straight to the head’s office to make sure something is done about this.”

The girls were pleased at this comment. Mrs. Hemplewaite always DID what she said she was going to do, not like most of the teachers.

*** *** ***

Someone else grabbed Rosalind’s arm at lunch, it was Tchi. He said he’d heard on the grapevine what had happened. They arranged to meet up later.

*** *** ***

If Rosalind thought the surprises of her day were over, the afternoon was to prove her wrong. When she went to collect her exercise books for maths she was amazed to find her locker unlocked. This was perplexing. She always locked it. And more: there was an envelope inside it addressed to her. Who could have opened her locker to put this inside? She opened an envelope and found a message inside. It read:

We will swap what we want for what you want. We will return your cat on Thursday at 7.30 during 10th and 11th years Open Day/ Parents Evening. It will be inside a cat box and placed on a chair in the corner of the Physics Laboratory, Room 76. You will bring your granddad’s pocket watch that you gave him on his seventieth birthday and leave it on the chair. Trickery of any description will not be tolerated.

The message was in an ordinary white envelope. The message was typed in ‘Arial’, a common type face. The paper on which is was written was white A4, but it was unusual because it had a printed border of symbols around its edge. They all looked like big ‘U’s in triangles.

Rosalind read and examined the letter so many times that it suddenly dawned on her she would be late for Maths. During the lesson she read it under the table several more times. She was beginning to dare to hope Mitzi was alive and well, although she also realised this could be a cruel joke.

She caught Marie as she was going out the gate after school.

“How weird,” she said. “If you get your Granddad’s watch, I’ll come with you.”

“I’m going to see him in hospital tonight.”

“You’ve got to get it.”

“I know. Let’s show the letter to Tchi, he knows a lot about these girls.”

They walked round to the Chinese Restaurant in High Street. Next to it was a yard full of old cars that were in a varied state of renovation. Tchi was sitting in one of the cars revving it up.

“You’re too young to drive,” mocked Marie through the car window.

“I’m off the road. My dad don’t mind.”

“Get out here, Tchi. We need your brains,” said Rosalind

Tchi switched the engine off and read the letter that was placed before his eyes.

“You say you locked your locker?

“Yeah, it was locked, I’m sure.”

“Wow, this is weird.”

“It must have been that Marissa girl?” said Rosalind.

“Didn’t you hear what happened,” said Tchi. “They’ve all been suspended. It appears Della Mahri’s family are really upset about it. They’ve been given school work to do at home now.”

“Good old Mrs. Hemplewaite,” said Marie.

“I can’t see how they could have got this note in your locker before they were suspended from school,” said Tchi. “How could they have got into your locker without a key, especially on a day when they were being roasted in the Deputy Head’s office.”

“But it could be a sort of revenge.”

“Anyway,” asked Marie, “Are you going to come with us when Ros tries to get her cat back?”

“I’m fascinated by puzzles. You betcha,” said Tchi.

“I don’t know if I can get my Granddad’s watch yet,” said Rosalind, looking at her own watch. “I’m off.”

*** *** ***

Granddad was awake when Rosalind and her mum went to see him in hospital that night, but only just. The doctor said he was very weak and wasn’t eating much at all, and during the day they had done several tests on him, but it was too early to be specific as to what was wrong with him.

Mum sat and talked to him for a long time telling him things that she thought might cheer him up. Rosalind did her best to amuse him by daft things that had happened at school, although she didn’t feel at all cheerful herself. All the time, she was dying to ask him if she borrow his pocket watch. Eventually she broached the subject, because he was looking dangerously like he was going to fall off to sleep.

“Granddad,” she began, “I’d like to borrow your pocket watch I gave you for your birthday a few years ago. I need it for a school project.”

His eyes opened unusually wide and looked at her. “It’s in the top drawer of the bedside cabinet. I asked them to bring it to me in hospital. It means a great deal to me.”

“Would it be okay to borrow it?”

“Don’t go bothering your granddad with things like that at the moment,” said mum.

“Of course, you can borrow it,” said Granddad, almost smiling.

“Whatever do you want that for?” asked her mum.

“I need to draw it for a project,” said Rosalind.

“Make sure you look after it,” said mum.

Rosalind went to speak to Granddad again but he had fallen off to sleep, so she opened the drawer and there it was: a Victorian pocket watch with Roman numerals. She put it in her pocket.

CHAPTER 4

As she lay in bed that night, Rosalind was highly agitated and confused about what to do. She felt guilty about lying to mum and granddad about the reason for borrowing the watch. But what else could she do? If she had mentioned the letter in the locker, mum would have marched straight up to the school and made a fuss, and the chance of getting Mitzi back may have been lost. She couldn’t take that chance.

But she also felt terrible about swapping the watch which she had bought specially for his 70th birthday. It was a strange watch she thought, because she remembered getting lost in a strange wood when she returned home from the jewellers. It was coming back to her: It was in this wood she had met the tapir. No that can’t have been right. Everything was getting very strange.

Yet if she swapped the watch for her cat, she would lose Granddad’s watch forever. She would have to pretend that she had lost it – another lie. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

But then she had a crazy idea. The more she considered it the more she thought it might just be possible. It would mean bunking off school for a day, but that was nothing if it meant not upsetting poor old granddad and getting her cat back. So resolved, she said her prayers but fell off to sleep before she had finished them.

*** *** ***

Rosalind stood outside Hawthorn’s Antique and Jewellery shop. This was the jeweller’s she had originally bought Granddad’s watch from. She was feeling optimistic because the window displayed – as she had hoped –several replicas of the same watch and she had brought enough money. She also noticed that they still did engraving service there. Eureka! This was better than she had dreamed. It looked like her plan was going to work.

She went in the shop and asked to see the specific pocket watch in the window. Close up, she studied it in detail. The only difference between the two watches was that on the back of granddad’s a message had been etched:

To Wizicky Wazicky Wood

To Wizicky Wazicky Wood

When set benign

You slip through time

And space to chime

Wizicky Wazicky Wood

The back of the new one was clear silver with no inscription. She asked the shopkeeper if they could engrave a message on the back.

“Yes of course, we do it all the time,” the woman said.

“Could you do it like this?” she asked, showing her granddad’s watch.

“Exactly the same. That type of font we use all the time. In fact,” she said, squinting at Granddad’s watch, “The message looks familiar. It must be all the rage.”

“How much will it all cost?”

“It will be just £51.35p including the engraving.”

Rosalind had brought enough. She asked her to proceed, but requested a sticker to be fixed on Granddad’s watch so that she would know which watch was which after they had completed the engraving. The shopkeeper, looking somewhat bemused, shrugged her shoulders, and did as the young girl ordered. She put a small white rectangular price sticker on the back of Granddad’s watch just above the message.

**** **** ****

While it was being done, Rosalind went outside and window-shopped in the jewellery window, but then she came back in and tried to settle in a chair placed for waiting customers. She was fidgety because she was nervous. Things have gone okay so far, but they could still go wrong. And the whole thing could be a mistake and a waste of £51.

But nothing had gone wrong yet. The engraving was a perfect copy. Without the sticker she wouldn’t have been able to tell one from the other. She paid, pocketed the watch and left the shop.

“How very odd,” said the shopkeeper to her colleague after Rosalind had closed the shop door.

**** **** ****

“So you’re not coming to see Granddad this evening?” asked mum.

“I feel a bit low,” said Rosalind.

“Granddad underwent tests this afternoon, so he’ll probably be a bit woozy, or asleep anyway.”

“I’ll stay here.”

“Have you given up about Mitzi?” asked mum.

“Of course not,” said Rosalind.

“Well you’ve not been asking about her much since yesterday.”

“No, I just hope she comes back,” she said.

“So do I,” said mum, We’re having a dreadful time this week. It can’t get any worse.”

But things can always get worse.

After mum had left, Ros’s attention was divided between watching ‘Friends’, doing homework and comparing and studying the two pocket watches. The latter gradually taking most of her attention. She held one in each hand. “What on earth would anybody need one of these watches for? I can’t see it myself,” she said.

She began to feel strange, like she had the other day, like she was going to faint.

Then the sensation got much stronger. She heard a rushing wind come into her ears, and out of nowhere came blue lights speeding towards her, as if from some central infinite point. She stumbled to her feet and began to make her way to the kitchen, yet strangely she felt drawn to move in the opposite direction, and was walking as if as against an opposing force. She forced herself to the door. She could see, in her minds eye, herself collapsing and had absolutely no control over it happening. Yet she didn’t collapse.

As suddenly as it had started, the sensations began to fade. The rushing white noise was subsiding, and the blue lights had now gone leaving her vision normal. She slowly, tentatively went into the kitchen. She put down the watch on the kitchen table, and took a drink of tap water.

She felt exhausted. She’d go to bed. Tomorrow was Thursday and she had to make sure everything went well. She needed to get some sleep because the world was going crazy.

CHAPTER 5

Even though Thursday was an open day for visitors, lessons were held as normal. However, like an OFSTED inspection, the children had previously been requested, begged even, by their teachers to be on their best behaviour, as committed parents and prospective parents roamed around the school.

At 7.30 that evening Ros, Tchi and Marie stood outside the physics lab in E Block. There were a lot of people, mainly adults, in the room as Rosalind went in. She smiled at the physics teacher, Mr. Boyle, but he was so busy in discussion with a parent, he didn’t seem to notice her. She immediately cast her eyes around the lab and there it was!

Placed on a chair in the corner was a cat box. She slowly – her heart in her mouth – walked down to it and as nonchalantly as she could – gripped the handle. She lifted it. It was heavy. Something was in it, and it felt lopsided, but no meows were coming from it. She put the substitute pocket watch on the chair and walked slowly back towards the door, wishing that she and her baggage were invisible.

“Hello Rosalind,” said Mr. Boyle, now seeing her for the first time. He had less to occupy him now the room was rapidly thinning of parents.

“What are you doing down here tonight? It’s only for 10th and 11th years.”

Rosalind just stared at him. She was really stumped for what to say. In a minute he would ask her what was in her basket.

“Rosalind is one our bright young scientists,” said Mr. Boyle, to a passing parent who was heading for the door. As the teacher was so commenting Rosalind made a dash to get to it sooner, pushed past the adult and ran into the corridor. With Marie and Tchi following, she turned left down the next corridor and came out into the playground – which that night was more like a car park.

Rosalind hid behind a car and waited for the others to catch up. She had heard no cries of ‘Stop!’ or the sound of being chased by a teacher, so after a few seconds they walked to the edge of the playing fields which was illuminated by a the lights from the Sports Centre.

“There’s definitely something alive in here,” said Rosalind opening the top flap of the cat box. She sighed as she looked in. As she lifted Mitzi out, tears welled up in her eyes.

“Is it your cat?” asked Marie.

“It certainly is. Stop wriggling.”

“Is it hurt or damaged in any way?” asked Tchi.

Eventually Rosalind got a firmer hold onto Mitzi. The cat was purring.

“No, she seems fine. You look as if you’ve been fed, don’t you, my little darling. Come on, I’ll put you in the box and get you home.”

“What did you do with the watch?” asked Tchi.

“I put it on the chair.”

“Let’s go back and look through the window and see if its gone.”

Rosalind pulled her cheeks in and looked doubtful. “No. You two go. I want to get Mitzi home and give her a check up and some food.”

“Okay, let’s go,” said Marie.

**** **** ****

A few minutes later, as Rosalind was going down the alleyway by the school, she caught the sound of a cry coming from the Physics department. She thought she could make a lot of voices, but she didn’t go back. Rosalind knew Mitzi wanted to get out of the cat box as soon as she could.

She examined Mitzi at home, both that night and in the morning and could find nothing wrong with her in any way. Mum was overjoyed. “I found her at school,” said Rosalind, realising this was a sort of truth, and it left out having to go into all the other business.

**** **** ****

The following morning Marie came into Rosalind’s tutor group and told her what had happened the night before.

“We were walking towards the windows of the physics lab,” she said, “when we heard this dreadful scream. Suddenly a woman came flying out the exit next to the lab into the playground. She looked terrified. A man, who turned out to be her husband caught up with her and stopped her. She was as white as a ghost. Then Mr. Boyle came and joined them in conversation, which we could only partly hear. She was shouting ‘It was horrid, horrid’. She made a lot of noise saying she didn’t want to talk about it. She would never sleep again after seeing such a weird thing. She must be ill. They tried to get her to calm down, but she was close on hysterical. Mr. Boyle seemed perplexed and couldn’t understand what was wrong with her. Eventually her husband put her in a car and drove her away.”

“I heard the cry, I think,” said Rosalind

“Then we went to the lab window. The room was empty – no parents, no teachers, nothing. We both noticed at once – the pocket watch had gone.

**** **** ****

But the pocket watch soon returned.

Rosalind had to go to her locker for her first lesson. Once again she was staggered to find the locker unlocked. And yet she had made sure she had locked it yesterday after finding the envelope. Rosalind wondered who could get into her locker when it was locked in the first place. The only people who could do that would be people with access to keys, and that was the caretaker and the teachers, especially the higher management teachers.

And then another surprise. As soon as she had lifted the locker’s hatch fully, the pocket watch she had swapped the evening before lay in front of her on top of a white piece of paper, a note.

After a fleeting look at the watch she put it in her pocket and grabbed the note. It read:

This is not your Grandfather’s watch. Although we no longer have need for it, you will die for your deception.

Die?

After Ms. Millicent’s class she hurried around to find Marie. She showed her the letter. Marie insisted that she go and show it to the head.

“That’s nasty stuff that is. You perhaps should show it to the police,” said Maria.

“I don’t understand any of it. I’ve now got two watches and my cat – and yet I didn’t need the watch in the first place.”

“You two! Aren’t you supposed to be in class. Stop talking and get a move on.” It was Mr. Cleaver the Design Teacher. He was always a bit of a stickler.

“Let’s meet up at Tchi’s tonight. I’ll get a message to him,” said Marie. I won’t be around much longer today because we’re all off to the Leisure Centre for the rest of it.”

“Okay. If you see Tchi, tell him I’m going home for lunch. I want to see if Mitzi’s okay.”

“Just be careful.”

“Of course.”

**** **** ****

Tchi was quickly informed about the note that Rosalind had received and desperately wanted to have a look at it. At lunch-time he kept an eye out and spotted Rosalind through the main hall window walking down the alley way. He called after her, but she was a long way ahead.

He dodged around students running after her. He could see her at the bottom of a steep jetty, she had reached Brennan Road. As he quickly closed the distance between them – calling her name again – she walked across the road. As he arrived at the end of the jetty, approaching the kerb of Brennan Road, his eyes locked on to a black estate car coming out of nowhere, out of some close, accelerating like a guided missile aiming straight towards his friend. Rosalind turned her head but had no chance of ducking away from it. It caught her shoulder bag, clipped her body and cart wheeled her onto the pavement.

With his mouth hanging open aghast, Tchi stood on the kerb of Brennan Close looking across at Rosalind’s body, prostrate on the pavement.

Rosalind wondered at first if she was going to die as they wheeled her into the ambulance. She should feel terrible, arms and legs broken, but apart from a sore shoulder she didn’t feel too bad. Maybe she was in shock. She even stood up at the hospital but they told her off. She had number of X-rays and was put in ward 11B. The next thing she remembered was waking up feeling terrible, with people, all around her, talking and staring at her.

“Hello darling,” said her mum.

“What happened?” asked Rosalind. She felt very stiff.

“A hit and run,” said mum, “But you’re going to be okay dear, for the love of God. According to the doctors, it appears nothings broken. You might be a bit concussed.”

“My shoulder hurts like hell.”

“It’s not dislocated or broken, just badly bruised,” said the nurse. “It will be sore for a while. You’ve been a very lucky girl.”

“Tchi called the ambulance services on his mobile, and then called me,” said mum, “so you have him to thank for getting you into hospital so quick.”

Tchi sat silently, looking down at his hands, more in confusion than embarrassment.

Rosalind remembered the threat to kill her. “Did they find out who ran me over?” she asked.

“No,” said the nurse, “but it seems that the police want to talk to you about it. Now you’ve had a sleep, do you feel strong enough to talk to PC Bill?”

“I don’t know anything.”

The nurse went and pushed through the swing doors. Through the glass panels she could be seen beckoning someone with her finger. A policeman followed her back into the ward.

“Hello Rosalind,” he said, nodding to everyone before continuing. “We’ve already talked to Tchi. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I can’t remember much at all. I was crossing the road and this big black car suddenly was coming at me, it was only inches away, and then bang! I can’t really remember that.”

“Well we need you to make a statement.”

“Can we do that later, when she’s a little better,” asked mum.

“Okay. I didn’t think you’d have much to add. We think we’ve found the car. Tchi described it as an old black Vauxhall Chevette Estate. He even remembered the number plate, although it wasn’t much use.”

“It was black, but all cars look the same to me,” said Rosalind.

“It was found abandoned only a couple of streets away. We’re having difficulty tracing its owner because the registration plates have been removed and all the engine and reference numbers have been also been removed. It was free of finger prints, although there seems to be a lot of rather peculiar hair on the head rests of the seats.”

“I told you,” said Tchi, his eyes looking slightly wild.

The policeman sniggered at Tchi. “You’ve been helpful, but there’s no need to be ridiculous, sonny.” He turned to Rosalind’s mother. “Let me give you the crime incident number.”

**** **** ****

Eventually the nurse turfed everyone out, as visiting time had ended 15 minutes previously, and Rosalind needed to rest. Tomorrow she may be released, but for tonight she would be kept in for observation. “Give my love to Granddad,” she said to mum.

“He’s in the ward upstairs above you,” she said. “Most of my family are in hospital,” she said to the nurse, “let’s pray they all soon get out and well again.”

Five minutes after everyone had gone, Tchi returned and popped his head around the end of Rosalind’s bed.

“There’s something I’ve not told you,” he whispered.

“Yes.”

He came closer. “I told the police – and they just laughed at me but I didn’t tell anyone else.”

“Spill the beans,” said Rosalind.

“Hey! You shouldn’t still be here!” shouted the nurse coming back from the end of the ward. “Come on, she’s tired out.”

“One minute!” shouted Rosalind. “Give him one minute.”

“If he’s still here when I get back from collecting a towel, he’ll be for it,” said the nurse going off again.

“Tell me,” said Ros, staring at Tchi.

“The car that hit you was driven by animals.”

“Animals?”

“I only saw the faces. There were two of them. One driving and one in the front passenger seat. They looked like dogs or wolves.”

“What driving a car!”

“That’s what the police said. But remember what PC Bill said about the hair found on the seats.”

“Possibly masks,” said Rosalind.

“Out!” shouted the nurse, who had returned and this time was not to be argued with.

CHAPTER 6

Rosalind signed out of the hospital on Saturday morning. Sitting in the car, mum filled her in on Granddad’s progress.

“He seemed brighter yesterday, when he was awake, but that was not for long. He’s losing a lot of weight, because he’s hardly eating.”

“Have they figured out what’s wrong with him yet?”

“They think he might have had a stroke with other complications.”

“Oh mum,” said Rosalind, the words coming out like a sigh, “is he going to be alright?”

“They say he’s satisfactory.”

Tchi phoned Rosalind that afternoon and asked her how she was. He asked if he and Marie could come to see her that evening and talk about things.

“Yeah that would be great. Mum’s going out, so we’ll have the place to ourselves.”

“Before we come, I’ll go round to dad’s kitchens and get some Chinese. Any particular dish you fancy?”

“I like mushrooms,” said Ros. “Anything with mushrooms in.”

Tchi and Marie arrived at Winslow Close a few minutes after six thirty, laden with brown paper bags and white plastic cartons, which effused mouth-watering sensations. They laid the goodies out on the kitchen table. They decided to slum it and put their meals on trays and sit in the lounge with the TV on.

Marie was simultaneously picking at her food and examining both of the pocket watches.

“I’m really pleased the fake one didn’t get smashed when I hit the pavement,” said Rosalind. “It cost me over fifty pounds.”

“Phewy!” whistled Marie.

Tchi asked to have a watch to examine. The children passed the watches between them at the same time as they ate, chatted and half-watched MTV. “You’re dad’s restaurant does good food,” said Rosalind.

“Why do you keep passing me the same watch?” she asked several minutes later.

“I didn’t,” said Tchi. “I’m just passing along the one that comes to me.”

“Where’s the real watch, the one with the white sticker on it?”

Marie put her finger to her thick lips and guiltily looked at Ros. “I took that off, I wanted to see if there was anything underneath it.”

“Oh you idiot,” said Rosalind. “That sticker was how I could tell one watch from the other. Now I won’t know which watch to give Granddad back.”

“Sorry,” said Marie.

“Does it really matter?” asked Tchi.

Ros looked at the watch that was in her hand to see if she could detect any glue on the back, but something odd was happening.

Her hand seemed to be vibrating, and the room was filling with hiss, an ever-increasing distortion in her ears. The room began to throb. Blue points of light began to come towards her making her feel she was spinning, yet simultaneously moving at breakneck speed. The hissing had become so loud her eardrums must burst. She got to her feet, but the room all around her was white. Then the blue lights began to recede, and the hissing diminished, but other noises invaded her ears: shouting and rumbling. She can’t recognise the purple walls or the strange patterns of suns and moons by her feet. One hand clings to the pocket watch, but the other hand trembles and lets a fork slip. The moons and suns of the carpet are now covered with a mouthful of mushroom foo yung.

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