Read Boy X Online

Authors: Dan Smith

Boy X

A MESSAGE FROM CHICKEN HOUSE

I
've always loved jungle thrillers – here, the forest becomes a character of its own, dangerous and wild. The sense of threat is heightened in
Boy X
as frightening animals prowl in the corners of your eyes, flitting between the trees . . . The mystery and excitement are pitch-perfect and, like Dan's readers everywhere, I feel it's me caught up in the adventure, trying to outguess the twists and turns in the plot. Get ready to be excited and intrigued!

BARRY CUNNINGHAM

Publisher

Chicken House

This is for you.
You are stronger than you think you are.

Also by Dan Smith

My Friend the Enemy

My Brother's Secret

Big Game

L
ight.

Bright. White. Light.

Ash's eyes snapped open, bringing intense pain, making him close them again and put his hands up for protection. A sharp ache bored through his skull and he lay still, trying to remember where he was.

For a moment his mind was blank, then his stomach heaved as an image leapt into his head. He had been at Dad's funeral – all those black suits and sad faces. People he hardly knew, talking about what a good bloke Ben McCarthy had been. There was something else, though. There had been something
wrong
. Something to do with that scruffy pot-bellied man. Whatever he'd said to Mum
had sent her into a panic and she had dragged Ash away, and . . .

And now he was here, in this firm bed, beneath crisp, clean sheets.

As soon as the pain started to ease, Ash pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted at the unfamiliar room. The ache of panic stirred deep inside like an awakening beast.

As everything came into focus, he saw that the room was bare. White walls reflected light from a fluorescent tube set behind a frosted glass panel in the white ceiling. Attached to the wall on the right-hand side of the bed was a panel with three touchscreens displaying digital numbers in glowing orange and green. A clear tube sprouted from the centre of the panel, running down to a blue plastic connection that was stuck to the back of Ash's right hand by a large piece of clear tape. Beneath the tape, the needle that entered his skin was just visible. The sight of the shining steel piercing his body sickened him. For some reason it made him think of spiders in the dark.

‘Mum?' His throat was dry and his voice croaked. His mouth felt as if it were filled with cotton wool, soaking up every last drop of moisture.

On a small bedside table was a plastic cup, and next to that was Dad's identity disc. The leather cord was coiled like a small black snake. Ash looked at the disc for a moment, trying to remember what had happened. His thoughts were muddled though, prodding the panic-beast harder, so he kept his eyes fixed on the identity disc; the one thing that could make him feel strong.

He reached out and took hold of the leather cord that uncoiled as he lifted it. The tag swung from side to side and he sat up further, using both hands to slip it over his neck. It was the only familiar thing in an unfamiliar room, and having it lying against his chest made him feel safer.

When that was done, he took the cup, drank half the water, then replaced it on the table and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The floor was white, with faint flecks of green running through it. It was cold on his bare feet.

He felt even smaller than usual as he sat there and looked around the room, trying to remember everything that had happened since the—

He injected you
, said the voice in his head.

It was the same voice Ash had heard all his life. It had always been there to taunt him and doubt him; to make him feel useless and afraid.

Don't you remember that little syringe? He drugged you. A slender man without any expression and a smooth, deep voice. And now you're dead. All alone.

The voice made his stomach queasy, so Ash touched the identity tag for reassurance and glanced down to see he was wearing pale blue, light cotton pyjamas. He felt an uncomfortable flush of anger and embarrassment; someone else must have put them on him. Maybe he was in some kind of hospital or something. That would explain the white sheets and white walls.

‘Mum?' His voice was flat in the small white room, and panic tightened its grip. He waited a few seconds, then called again, this time louder. ‘Mum?'

Nothing.

She died
, sneered the voice in his head. It came from somewhere dark and out of reach.
They stuck a needle in her neck and she got what she deserved. She's dead and gone and you're all alone.

‘No.'

It wasn't true. He would know, wouldn't he? He would feel it.

Ash pushed to his feet and put a hand on the wall to steady himself. Without even thinking about it, his fingers went to the tag round his neck, and a hollow ache nestled among all the other terrible feelings. He shook it away and looked down at the needle in his hand. If he were going to leave this room, search for Mum, he would have to remove it.

‘I
have
to.' He peeled back the tape and the needle fell to one side, almost sliding out by itself. Clear liquid oozed like venom from the tip as he dropped the needle onto the bed and rubbed the back of his hand.

The numbers on the digital panel began to change and Ash was afraid something terrible was about to happen. Maybe the drip was keeping him alive and now his brain would cloud over, or his heart would stop beating, and—

There was no change at all. Nothing.

Ash stayed where he was for a few more moments, staring at the numbers, then turned towards the door set into the far corner of the room. Taking a deep breath, he padded over to it.

It'll be locked.

He knew it straight away, as surely as he knew his name was Ash McCarthy and that in three weeks' time he would be thirteen years old. Whoever had brought him here would have locked the door.

Preparing for the worst, he reached out and took the handle firmly in his hand, then twisted and pulled.

The overhead door-closer made a sucking noise as it opened, and Ash stepped back in surprise. The voice had been wrong. With his fingers still on the handle, he listened, hardly daring to cross the threshold. He wanted to know where he was and what was out there, but at the same time he
didn't
want to know.

His fingers curled harder round the handle and his stomach cramped as if the panic-beast had breathed ice. He was tempted to call out, but something told him it was better to be quiet and unnoticed, so he took a step, leaning forward just enough to peek out.

The corridor ran in both directions. Long and white, with the same green-flecked floor. It was silent and empty. No nurses or doctors hurrying here and there carrying clipboards and clicking pens. No trolleys, or visitors.

Just a long, white, empty corridor, and the steady hum of air conditioning.

See? You're already dead. You're in hell.

The corridor was lined with doors on both sides, spaced evenly. Each one had a Roman numeral on it, close to the top. He turned and looked at his own door, seeing a little, black, plastic ‘X'.

Without warning, another flash of memory sparked in his
mind – of a woman injecting his mum the same way the man had injected him. And the woman had said something.

Kronos needs to be resurrected.

Ash didn't know what that meant, but he remembered the look on Mum's face.

It had filled her with terror.

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