© FJ Reid
Click Here To Buy This Book
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
The bell that marked the end of the lesson jangled through the hot still air in the classroom. All around me I was vaguely aware of the rest of my class leaping to their feet and stuffing their books and folders into their bags. A hubbub of noise rose to the ceiling above our heads. My friend, Ollie Harkness, who was sitting next to me during the double Maths lesson, gave me a dig in the ribs.
“Come on, Alex,” he said, “you’ll miss the bus if you don’t shift.”
I looked up at him, struggling to return from that distant place to where my thoughts had been drifting, his voice bringing me back to earth with a bump. I’d not been listening to the last half of the Maths lesson, so when the bell rang out for the end of lessons it hardly registered.
Ollie started shoving my books into my bag for me. “You’re bloody lucky Wallie didn’t notice you,” he said, “gazing out the window like that. Don’t forget it’s exams after half term, and he’s already said he’ll move any of us down a set if we don’t do well. And he meant it. Think how mad that’d make your mum and dad.”
His mum and dad would go ballistic if he got moved down a set, I knew. I doubted if my parents would be too bothered though. They were pretty cool really.
Ollie glanced towards the teacher’s desk at the top of the classroom, but Wallie Wallace had already gone.
“Not that I care,” he said hurriedly, not wanting to appear a swot in front of even me, his mate. “I mean, Maths is mega boring. The most mega boring subject out - after Hist’ry that is.”
He pushed my schoolbag into my hands and I got slowly to my feet. I followed him out of the classroom and into the corridor. Jason Curran and Sly Stone, the bullies from Year Ten, were lying in wait for us.
Curran, who was about six feet tall with a small head and piggy eyes, grabbed me by the collar and pinned me up against the corridor wall, his ugly fat face pressed up close to mine. He had terrible bad breath.
I didn’t struggle : I’d learnt that struggling wasn’t a good idea when in Curran’s clutches. I glanced sideways up and down the corridor though, hoping that a teacher might appear, but it was empty of course. Where were the teachers when you really needed them?
“Empty your pockets, posh boy,” Curran spat. A globule of spit hit me in the eye.
Next to me I could see Ollie emptying his for Stone, so I copied him, spilling the remains of a day’s school onto the floor by my feet : sweet papers, a snotty tissue, some chewing gum, my bus pass and 40p in small coins. I could see that Ollie was no richer than I was : we were poor pickings for bullies, surely? They’d only turned their attentions to me and Ollie a few days ago, having bled their last victim so dry he’d asked his parents to change schools.
“That all you can manage?” sneered Stone, who was short legged and barrel bodied - built for rugby and for bullying. He kicked both our bus passes away from us and laughed.
“Half Term tomorrow,” Curran snarled, and I could smell his bad breath and the cigarette smoke on his clothes. “When you come back, I want ten quid off the both of you. Or you’ll suffer. Got it?”
“I haven’t got ten pounds,” I ventured.
He gave me a harder shove, the back of my head grating against the resistant wall. “Well nick it off your posh mum and dad,” he said. “We all know they’re loaded. Nick it you little git.”
Stone gave Ollie another shove too, just for good measure. “An’ that goes for you, too,” he said. I’m not sure if he was capable of forming ideas of his own. I’m not sure if he was capable of thought, actually. He just copied everything that Curran did.
“Oi!” the voice of Mr Trimble, the Deputy Head, rang out down the corridor. “You boys are going to miss your buses! Get a move on.”
Curran and Stone let go of us, obviously suddenly remembering that they too had a bus to catch, and loped off down the corridor towards the playground where the buses parked every afternoon. They looked very much like a pair of orang-utans.
“Don’t forget.” shouted Curran over his shoulder as a parting shot, “Ten quid. Or else.”
We picked up our bus passes, abandoning the rubbish, and ran after them towards the buses. It would be a very long walk home if we missed them.
Ollie didn’t catch the same bus as me, as he lived in a different village several miles in the opposite direction. Luckily, neither of us caught the same bus as Curran and Stone, so we were safe for now. Safe, I supposed, until after the holidays.
My bus driver tutted in annoyance as I swung myself up, flashing my bus pass under his nose, and looking round for an empty seat. The bus was full of chattering kids, and he had Radio One on very loud. The music thumped around the interior of the bus, drowning out the sound of two Year Sevens in the back row of seats killing each other. I supposed our driver was working on the usual rule that if you can’t hear it or see it, then it’s not happening.
I dropped down into an empty pair of seats almost at the front and budged over to the window. Normally I sat next to Callie on the way home from school, but she wasn’t at school at the moment.
Callie’s mum and dad were divorced and Callie’s dad had turned up last week right out of the blue after five years absence. Her mum had let him take her away on holiday to Pembrokeshire for two weeks - the week of half term and the one we’d just had. To get to know her. She’d been gone since last Saturday and I’d spent a rather lonely week travelling to and from school with no-one to talk to.
Let me get this straight right now : I wasn’t lonely because I didn’t have any friends, because I had loads. It was because all my other friends, like Ollie, went on different buses. Callie, despite being a girl, was my best friend, even though we weren’t in the same class, and my best friend at home in our village too. I didn’t really see her as being a girl, really, just a friend. We’d been through a lot together, more than anyone except my godfather, Uncle Max, and my older brother Jack knew. So there was a lot that kept us bound together for reasons other than merely being mates, as I was with Ollie. My friendship with Callie was different.
The bus rumbled out of the playground and down the school drive, passing the sprawling brick built estate of sixties houses and the rather seedy fish and chip shop the sixth formers all bought their lunches from, and then out onto the main road. I leaned my head against the glass, lost once more in deep thought.
I’d been looking forward to half term until Callie’d announced that she would be going away. I’d telephoned Uncle Max on his mobile, but he wasn’t even in the country. He was an archaeologist and he was in America doing a lecture tour about what he’d found on his last dig.
Mum and Dad said that in another year, when I was fourteen, I’d be allowed to go with him on a dig, but just not yet. I was crossing my fingers that the dig would turn out to be somewhere exciting like Egypt or Greece. Since Christmas I was a lot more interested in history than I’d been before. However, for reasons that Uncle Max was well aware of, the one place that I wasn’t too keen on going to was Glastonbury, which unfortunately was his favourite spot for digs. He was a bit of a King Arthur fan, you see.
My brother Jack was my next try, but he couldn’t get any time off work as he and his partner Lindi were going to South Africa for a month in the autumn and he needed all his leave for then. That had exhausted my small supply of people to whom I could talk properly. I loved my other brother and my two sisters too, but they, like Mum and Dad, had no idea what had happened to me at Christmas. Only Uncle Max and Jack and Callie knew about the events which had erected an invisible barrier between me and the rest of my family.
You see, hidden under a loose floorboard in my bedroom was the sword Excalibur and its magical healing scabbard. Uncle Max had discovered it hidden in a stone that was part of an ancient church in Glastonbury. He sent it to me for my thirteenth birthday just before last Christmas because I was the prophesied Midwinter Child, the heir to King Arthur himself, for whom the sword was meant.
Callie and I were plunged into a terrifying adventure as a trio of demons working for the Dark One, scarily better known as the Devil himself, and a corrupt Cabinet Minister had chased after us trying to get hold of the sword for their own ends. But we’d managed to outwit them all, journeyed to Avalon itself and returned with the scabbard in order to heal my parents who were in a magic induced coma caused by the Dark forces.
I’d even managed to persuade Alistair Prickett, the Cabinet Minister in question, that it would be a good idea to abolish homework. Unfortunately as he was now a patient in a High Security Mental Hospital, that bit of my plan hadn’t worked out as I’d intended. We were still getting lots of homework.
Now half term stretched away in front of me for a whole week, which you would’ve thought I’d be pleased about. Unfortunately I now had to raise ten pounds for those bullies or I was likely to get a beating when I got back to school. I’d seen the state their last victim had been left in - far too scared to tell his parents who’d done it to him.
The irony of all this was that I think I could’ve sorted them out quite easily if I’d dared. But the problem was, I couldn’t just use the powers that had woken in me on the morning of my birthday six months earlier, because if I did, I’d definitely be drawing attention to myself. Since Christmas Day I’d been keeping a very low profile indeed. So much so that I actually wasn’t even that certain myself that I still had any powers to speak of.
As I didn’t dare to try to sort them out using Magic, and I certainly didn’t want to get beaten up, I would just have to pay them the ten pounds. And I had nine days to think of how to raise it honestly.
The bus drew up on the village green at Callie’s normal stop, and the last few kids got out. I was always the last one on the bus, as I lived outside the village. I moved forward so that I was sitting in the seat right by the steps, opposite the driver.
He grinned at me, and turned the music down low. “Doing anything special for Half Term?” he asked conversationally. He was nice really, just not very caring about what happened where he couldn’t see it. I suppose that if we’d all rioted he might have done something.
“Nope,” I said, a bit glumly I suppose, “My Mum’s working on a new book at the moment, and my Dad’s busy restoring some old bit of furniture he bought in an auction and he thinks is beautiful.”
“And is it?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It’s manky crap,” I said. “But he likes it and it keeps him quiet and out of my hair.” The driver laughed.
The bus stopped in the narrow lane outside our cottage and I got down into the road, trailing my bag behind me. “See you next Monday,” I called and the doors slid shut. I waited as he drove off down the lane in a cloud of diesel fumes before crossing the road and opening the gate.
Mum would be upstairs in her study. I knew better than to disturb her flow of creativity even with a cup of tea. Dad would be in the workshop that had once been a double garage and now housed all his wood working and upholstering equipment. So I dropped my bag in the hallway, and went upstairs to my bedroom to change out of my school uniform. I shut the door and flopped onto my bed, staring up at the ceiling above my head, wishing yet again that Callie’s dad had not chosen just now to try to mend the broken bridges that lay between him and his family. I knew I was being selfish, but I couldn’t help it.
The ceiling was boring. It was the only part of my bedroom that wasn’t plastered with posters of footballers and pop groups. Actually, the walls were pretty boring too, despite the posters. Before Christmas I’d have thought my bedroom looked pretty cool, but now I knew that there were a lot more important things in life. I’d left the posters in place though, as Mum and Dad would worry about me if I went all minimalist on them.
I looked at the poster of Manchester United on the inside of my door, all dog eared and tatty. Jack had given me that a couple of years back, and it had once been the best thing in my bedroom. Not now though. The best thing in here now was lying wrapped in shabby velvet under the floor boards in the far corner, beneath my book case.
Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to take the poster down though. And not just because Jack had given it to me. That poster and that door had played a very large part in rescuing Callie and me from Avalon when we thought we’d never get out. To my astonishment I’d found that I was able to conjure that door out of thin air and make us a way to return from the world of Magic to our own world. Right into the lap of danger, as it turned out, but back.
My large bedroom window was wide open, letting the afternoon sun stream in and across my floor. From outside I could hear the birds singing and the rustle of the leaves in the trees in our garden, stirred by the gentle breeze. It wasn’t even the first day of the holidays and I was bored.
Lying on my bed feeling fed up and sorry for myself wasn’t going to do me any good though..
I pulled off my shirt and tie and grey school trousers, leaving them in a heap on my floor, and changed into jeans and a t-shirt, pulling on my Converse shoes over my bare feet.
Downstairs in the kitchen I poured myself a large glass of orange juice and took it out into the garden. We had a very large garden full of trees and shrubs and big flower beds. Mum enjoyed gardening when she wasn’t busy on one of her children’s books, and Dad and I shared the mowing of the lawns. I could see the grass was in need of a cut, but it was still really hot and I didn't want to do anything that would involve getting sweaty. I wondered if I could persuade Mum to pay me if I mowed it tomorrow. That would start me on my way to the ten pounds I needed for next week.
There was a round wrought iron table under the biggest tree in the garden, a horse chestnut that Dad had made me a tree house in when we first moved here. Parts of the tree house still clung determinedly onto the branches, threatening to fall onto whoever chose to sit in the sweeping shade of the tree.
I made sure that I wasn’t under a dangerous bit, and sat down on one of the wrought iron chairs, sipping my cold drink.
How different the garden looked to how it had been at Christmas, when the Great Freeze had been in full swing, and most of the country had been deep in snow. Then it had looked like a scene from a Christmas card, but now, bathed in sunlight, the air heavy with the scent of roses and the sound of buzzing bees, it reminded me sharply of somewhere else I’d been. Of another garden I’d walked in once, and where I’d seen a mighty witch queen mourning her long dead brother.
I shook myself. Deep thoughts. I needed to distract myself and think of something cheerful.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move at the very bottom of the garden, where Mum had her potting shed. It was just a momentary flutter of something dark, swirling, flapping even, and then gone. Probably just a bird, a black bird most likely, fluttering through the trees and bushes.
I took another swig at my orange juice, swatting at a fly that came too close to me, and looked back up towards the house. From where I was sitting I could see the open windows of my bedroom and Mum’s study, nestling beneath the thatch. Mum and Dad’s bedroom looked out onto the lane at the front of the house. Beneath my window were the patio doors into the sitting room. Over to the left was the wooden stable door into the kitchen - a much newer single storey annexe built on by the previous owners. Thick bushes and Mum’s fruit trees obscured my view of the back of the garage, which was beyond the kitchen. Sorry, the workshop. Dad got cross if I referred to it as just a garage, although Mum did all the time when he wasn‘t in earshot.
The flutter of something black came again, just in the corner of my vision. What was it? Curious, I put down my empty glass and went to have a look.
Our garden was long and curving and what estate agents call ‘well established’. The fact that it was ‘well established’ meant that there were lots of places in it where you couldn’t be seen from the house. Something that I’d revelled in as a nine year old.
Since Christmas I’d changed my opinion a bit and now I didn’t like the idea that things could be going on in the garden that none of us could see when we were in the house. Experience had made me suspicious and wary.
I walked slowly towards the potting shed.
It was quite a big shed. I think the previous owners had kept pigeons in it. Mum had earmarked it the moment we arrived for all her gardening equipment. She had a small greenhouse down there too, with young tomato and pepper plants growing in it at the moment.
There were small mesh lined windows down both sides of the potting shed, kept propped open with those funny little metal props that you get, gone rusty with age. A gravel pathway wound away from it between the trees up towards the distant back of the workshop.
I stopped. The door was slightly ajar.
That was odd. Mum was very careful never to leave it open when she wasn’t in it, in case of mice or cats. Perhaps she wasn’t in her room after all? Perhaps she was down here pottering about in her potting shed.
I called out to her, tentatively, still not sure whether she was there or not.
No answer. Perhaps she’d left it open by mistake? Or perhaps it’d blown open? Maybe she needed to get Dad to check the catch for her. Maybe I could do it. Maybe she’d pay me to fix it.
I took the last few steps up to the shed and put my hand on the warm wood of the door.
For some reason my heart was pounding rather too hard in my chest. I wanted to tell myself not to be stupid, but experience prompted me not to.
I opened the door and looked into the shed. It was very dark inside after the bright glare of the summer sunshine in the garden. I blinked, momentarily unaccustomed to the gloom. I waited a moment and my eyes began to adjust themselves.
On either side of me at this end Mum had rows of shelves with her plant pots and seed trays neatly laid out. I could see her tools hanging on orderly hooks on the walls, a broom leaning in the corner near the door. Beyond that there were stacks of boxes, the lawnmower, two wheel barrows leaning against the wall, sticks for supporting plants, a bag of useful carrier bags hanging from a nail. You know the sort of thing. A lot of junk to anyone it doesn’t belong to.
I took a couple of steps inside the door. The air was hot and a bit rancid in my nostrils.
And it was then that I heard the noise.
It was a faint rustling noise, like a bird’s wings beating against glass.
There must be a bird in here with me, one that had flown inside because the door had been left open. Maybe that was what had caught my attention in the garden. I glanced around myself. I didn’t want it to hurt itself uselessly trying to get out of the windows. That would be horrible.
Where was it?
I turned round slowly on the spot, and the rustling came again, from behind me this time. I swung round quickly, and it was in my face, a flurry of wings, a scrabbling of little clawed feet, dust in my nose and eyes, a screeching squawk of a cry.
I must have squawked a bit myself, it took me so much by surprise. I staggered backwards, my arms instinctively up to protect my face, as the black bird - or was it a crow?- flapped its way past me in a panic and out of the now wide open doorway into the bright sunlight.
I straightened up. I could see the motes of dust stirred up by its passing caught in the beams of sunlight. Bloody birds, I thought to myself, in relief.
A hand came over my mouth from behind, foul and dirty and strong. My head was bent back against a solid body, and a voice hissed into my right ear.
“No noise, or you’re dead.”
I stood very still in the suddenly stuffy gloom of the shed. I was conscious of the buzzing of a few drowsy flies against the window panes, the smell of soil and compost and tarred string. Outside the garden was bright with sunlight and the house where my parents were working was only a matter of metres away. But it was out of sight and hearing and they were unaware of the danger I was in.
One large dirty hand was clamped tightly over my mouth, and I could feel the other grabbing for my right arm, long strong fingers closing about it below the elbow, twisting it round behind my back all too easily.
“If I take my hand away, you’d better not make a sound, or I’ll break your arm,” the thick guttural voice muttered into my ear. “D’you understand?”
I nodded. Instinct, and my nose, told me that this was not another visitation from Curran or Stone. And somehow I didn’t think it was a would be kidnapper either. In fact, the gruff voice sounded oddly familiar.
He took his filthy hand away from my mouth, and I spat, trying to get the foul taste off my tongue. Gross.
There was a snort of laughter beside my ear, and I twisted my head sideways, trying to get a look at my captor. I got a glimpse of dark clothing, long lank hair, a straggly beard and dirty sallow skin before he gave my arm a savage jerk and I looked forwards again, biting my tongue in the effort not to cry out in pain. I didn’t want to give him that pleasure.
“That’s better,” he hissed at me, spit spotting my neck. “You don’t do nothing without me telling you.” He gave my arm another tweak. “Got it?”
I winced and nodded.
I was thinking of the sword lying under my bedroom floor, and wishing I had it in my hand.
“What do you want?” I asked, through gritted teeth.
He pressed his bristly face up very close to mine. He really did smell very bad : as though he’d been living rough for months. I felt my treacherous stomach heave.
“I want you to listen,” he said, gruffly. “to listen and shut up.”
I nodded again. “I’m listening,” I said, hoping to humour him. Maybe Dad would come wandering down here and I could shout for help. Maybe Mum would want to use her shed. On second thoughts, if this creature was what I suspected it was, I definitely didn’t want Mum and Dad wandering in on this. Oh, why were Uncle Max and Callie both so far away when I needed them?
“Get on with it then,” I said, trying to sound braver than I felt but my voice betraying me in a squeak. Curran and Stone seemed quite an attractive option when compared with the creature now bending my arm into a position nature had never meant it to be in.
He gave me another angry shake, which hurt a lot. “You’re not in charge now,” he snarled.
But it had worked, because he got on with it. “I’ve got a message for you,” he hissed into my ear. “A message from someone you know.” He paused to let this sink in properly.
“Who?” I asked fearfully, my mind racing as I tried to think who it could be from. “What is it?”
He hesitated for a moment as though he was groping around in his head for the exact words. I could almost hear the cogwheels turning.
“I got to tell you that - ” he said hesitantly, as though suddenly very reluctant,“ - ‘The Dark is returning’.” His last words shot out in a gabbled rush, almost as though he didn’t want to give voice to them. A tremble ran through the body pressed up against mine. “I got to warn you to be prepared,” he muttered, “To be prepared and to remind you that you gotta wake him up right now.” I heard him lick his lips wetly. “ ‘He lies sleeping still’ is what I got to tell you. ”
The words that my godfather had used in the letter he’d sent me with the sword on my birthday. Words that would mean nothing to most people. But were to me deeply significant.
For a moment I felt my whole body go rigid as the cold hand of fear crawled up my spine. Just like in books. I could feel the actual touch of cold fingers on my skin, the rising of goose pimples, the shiver of rising terror. Whatever it was it fired me up to throw caution to the wind.
“Let me go right now,” I said furiously, giving a convulsive wriggle in the arms of my captor.
Much to my surprise he released my sore right arm as though it were red hot - would it ever work again? - and took a step back away from me. I didn’t run : I turned round and looked at him.
It was Glauneck.
The demon last seen desperately trying to put out the fire in his robes on Christmas morning outside the Abbot’s Kitchen in Glastonbury. So he had survived.
He looked very much the worse for wear though. His black cloak and hood were filthy and tattered, his clothes looked as though he’d been sleeping in them for ages and his hair and face had not been improved in the six months since I’d last seen him. He had a nasty sore at the side of his mouth, fewer teeth, if that were possible, than last time, and as I’ve already said, he really smelt bad. He looked as though he’d been living rough for ages.
For a long moment we stared at one another. I’d grown quite a bit since Christmas and he wasn’t much taller than me now, but despite his scruffy appearance, I could see that his body was still stocky and powerful under his rags. And I’d felt his strength for myself. Surprisingly I no longer felt scared of him now that I could see him.
“Who sent you?” I asked, raising my right hand in a slightly threatening manner..
I had the pleasure of seeing him cower in fear. Not that he’d seen what I could do with my right hand, because he hadn’t. And not that I was sure I could still do it, anyway. I think it was just his natural reaction to authority. Revenge for the fright he’d just given me was sweet.
“Who sent you?” I repeated more firmly, made braver by his obvious fear of me.
He cringed a bit more. “She did,” he whispered into his robes, suddenly pathetic, not threatening.
She? Who was she? Who did he mean? Who would know that the Dark was returning? Who would trust him with a message? Someone from the Dark themselves? Why would they want to warn me that the Dark was returning, unless it was some elaborate trick on their part to lure me out of cover?
Ever since Christmas I’d been wearing once again the amulet that Uncle Max had given me when I was just a small child ; the stone with my name marked on it in Runes that an Elven hand had made for me and which could protect me from the powers of the Dark. But if they’d found me now and they knew I was here, why hadn’t more of them come? I doubted very much if such a poor specimen as Glauneck looked was all the Dark could send.
And he’d said ‘she’. I hadn’t been aware there were any female demons. I was puzzled.
“What do you mean?” I asked, “‘She’?”
Suddenly seeming to have lost all his aggressive bluster he retreated away from me until his back was up against the rear wall of the shed, and I saw on the floor in the corner what looked like a nest of rags. Had he been sleeping here? I was revolted by the thought, now that the tables had been turned and I was the one on the attack.
“The Lady,” he muttered, addressing his sleeve rather than me. He seemed to be very reluctant to say her name out loud.
I stared hard at him. By ‘the Lady’ could he mean Morgana, the Queen of Avalon and sister of King Arthur? She was the only Lady I knew of. Why would she be sending such a queer emissary as Glauneck to me? Surely she had better messengers at her disposal than this?
“Do you mean Morgana?” I asked him bluntly, “Did she send you to me?”
He nodded his great ugly head, a globule of saliva hanging on his lower lip.
“Why would she choose you?” I asked suspiciously; “Answer me that.”
He was sliding down the wall, into his nest of rags, almost sinking in on himself like an inflatable toy with the air let out of it. The smell he dislodged as he settled into the rags was worse even than his own. How long had he been here? Why hadn’t my parents seen him if he’d been living in our potting shed?
“Sorry for me,” he muttered into his sleeve again.
“What?” I asked. “She was sorry for you?”
He nodded his head, a bovine glum expression gradually replacing his vanishing look of threatened agression.
He didn’t look nearly so dangerous any more. I wiped my hand across my mouth again in a vague hope that I might rid myself of the taste of him, which was far worse than the smell of him. I failed dismally.
“Okay,” I said, keeping well back from him just in case, “I think you’d better tell me what’s been going on. Starting from when you were on fire at Glastonbury Abbey.”
Glauneck was not a natural story teller. He couldn’t even get the events in the right order, never mind stitch them together into a proper tale. Eventually though, I managed to work out what had happened to him after Callie and I had used the sword to take us back to the Isolation Hospital so that we could cure my parents with the magical scabbard Morgana had given us in Avalon.
He managed eventually to put the fire out in his robes by rolling in the snow, but when he went back into the Abbott’s Kitchen he found that Astaroth and Bechard, the two other demons had vanished, leaving only a heap of robes behind them. This was because I’d killed them, using the magic of Excalibur. We’d gone too, and he was terrified to find himself completely alone. He ran, hiding in ditches, barns, ruined buildings, only coming out at night. I couldn’t quite make out who he thought would be after him - me or his big boss, the Dark One. Whoever he was most scared of though, he ran and hid, and hid some more, always hanging about not too far from Glastonbury itself though. Until at last he bumped into the person he was referring to as ‘The Lady’.
This bit he was most clear on. He was skulking about one night in the back streets of the town, dipping into dustbins outside restaurants in the hopes of finding leftovers to eat. From what I could gather he’d eaten a lot worse than leftovers whilst on the run. He saw a door open up ahead of him, and an old lady came out into the street. He slunk into the shadows, but she saw him, and beckoned him to come nearer to her.
Reluctantly he approached her, ready for her to see his appearance and scream, but she didn’t. Instead she laid a hand on his shoulder and invited him into her shop. An antiquarian book shop. As soon as I heard this I realised that it had to be the same one my Dad had been into before I was born - once in the company of Uncle Max and once on his own. She took him through to her back room, sat him down and fed him, quite unafraid of his bizarre appearance.
And when he’d eaten she asked him to deliver a message for her.
He finished his story and began to chew his ragged sleeves in a way that was quite disgustingly like a small child, only not. If you see what I mean. It gave me the creeps.
I looked down at him where he was squatting in his filth, for the first time just a little bit of pity for him surfacing in my heart. Too frightened to return to his own people, he’d eventually found - what? Who was that old lady in the shop? He seemed to think that she was Morgana, but maybe he’d just said yes to my question because he’d thought that was what I’d wanted to hear. I was confused. Could the old lady in the shop be another of Morgana’s many disguises? I’d had experience of them before.
“Did she say anything else?” I asked, curiously.
Glauneck shook his head, clutching on to a fold of his robes like a child with a comfort blanket. Ugly, yes, but no longer dangerous. Well, probably not.
I needed time to think about this. I needed Callie to talk to about it. Glauneck’s stomach disturbed the silence as it made a loud rumbling noise.
“Stay here.” I said, “And I’ll go and get you something to eat. You look - ” I hesitated, “ - terrible.”
The kitchen was empty. Presumably my parents were still busy. I hacked a couple of thick slices of bread off the loaf in the bread bin, spread it generously with butter and added some slices of cheese. There was the remains of the apple pie we’d had for supper last night so I took that, putting the fat sandwich I’d made into the pie dish with it. I wondered what demons liked to eat. I added a banana from the fruit bowl, and took a half full bottle of milk.
He was still there when I got back. Part of me had wondered whether he would have taken the opportunity to flee, having safely delivered his message. But no, he was still there, crouching in his disgusting nest. And he was chewing something. I watched as he removed a mouse’s tail from his mouth and belched in satisfaction.
I held out the dish of food towards him.
He shuffled a little closer so that he could see what I’d brought him. His thick upper lip curled a little in dislike, but he reached out and grabbed the pie dish nevertheless, and started stuffing the food into his mouth without a word of thanks. He didn’t bother to peel the banana. I supposed that if you were used to eating mice whole, a banana skin would pose no problem to your digestive system.
When the food had all vanished and he’d noisily licked the pie dish clean, he gave another great belch and seemed to settle down into the nest a little more comfortably. I wondered what I was going to do with him. He really couldn’t stay here. I could imagine the look of horror on Mum’s face if she finished her book early and came marching down here ready to do some therapeutic gardening.
My mind went back to the warning message he’d brought. So, the Dark was returning, or someone wanted me to think it was. Well, Callie and I had been pretty sure that it would, but maybe not so soon. And the reminder that ‘he lies sleeping still’. This must be a reference to Merlin, bizarre as this sounded in the cold light of day, who was mentioned in the prophecy that I was supposed to be going to fulfil.
According to the legend that Callie had recounted to me on numerous occasions now, he’d been imprisoned in a cave by the Lady Nimueh, a powerful witch who’d been jealous of him or something, and it was my job to find him and wake him up to help me in the struggle against the Dark. Supposedly. Despite Christmas I was still finding all this a bit difficult to believe.
Plus I hadn’t expected to be called upon to do it just yet. Surely even King Arthur himself had started his fight against the Dark as an adult, not a boy. Part of me had really hoped that having reunited the sword and the scabbard I would be left in peace to grow up a bit before I had to fulfil any other dangerous tasks.
Just then I heard a shout from the house. It was my Mum calling me in for my tea. I looked back at Glauneck, now curling himself up like a contented cat in his nest, full of food and ready for sleep. As I watched his right hand shot out, snatched a fly from the window above his head and popped it into his mouth. He chewed for a moment with relish, then swallowed.
“Stay here and don’t come out.” I said to him firmly, feeling like a mother with a naughty child. “I’ve got to go and eat my tea now, but I’ll come down again before I go to bed and make sure you’re okay. Just behave yourself. And definitely don’t come out.”
After tea I washed up the dishes for Mum, while she and Dad turned the TV on in the sitting room and watched the News. I brought cups of tea in for them, and sat down in an armchair, facing the garden. I was really worried that Glauneck might venture out of the potting shed and into their line of vision. But he didn’t, which was a great relief to me. Later on, when Mum and Dad were watching a film, I raided the fridge again and took him half a carton of orange juice and two slices of ham in another fat sandwich.
He liked the ham sandwich, but spat the orange juice out in disgust, spraying it all over the inside of the shed.
Ungrateful git, I thought to myself, glad that I’d been standing well back.
I’d decided I’d try and move him out of the shed the next day, when Mum and Dad would be out shopping. They liked to go to the local Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, so I thought I’d have a clear shot at sorting Glauneck out.
I wished, not for the first time, that Callie were here to share this problem.