Authors: Claire McFall
There should be silence. Tranquil, deathly, solemn silence.
But there was only screaming.
Dylan opened her eyes and was instantly blinded. Brilliant white light pierced her brain. She tried to twist away, but the light followed her, moving a fraction of a second late, then eclipsing the darkness behind. She gaped at it, stunned.
Just as suddenly as it had come, the brightness disappeared. Dylan was left staggered, blinking away dancing spots of colour. She started as a face dropped into her vision. Filled it. It was pale, coated in a sheen of sweat and smeared with inky red. A man, stubble bristling around his mouth, his lips moving urgently. Dylan tried to focus on what he was saying, but there was a high-pitched ringing in her ears, and she could hear nothing else.
She shook her head, forced her mind to concentrate on the man’s lips. Slowly she grasped that he was repeating the same phrase, over and over.
“Can you hear me? Look at me. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”
Now that she knew what he was saying, Dylan realised that she
hear him. In fact, he was shouting, his voice hoarse and strained. How had she not heard him before?
“Yes,” she mumbled, spitting through a mouth filled with liquid too hot, too thick to be saliva. She swallowed, tasting something metallic on her tongue.
The man looked relieved. He flashed the little penlight across her face again for a moment, causing her to screw up her eyes against the assault of white, then ran it down the length of her body. Dylan watched him train it on her legs, his expression anxious. He looked back up at her.
“Can you move your arms and legs? Can you feel that?”
Dylan concentrated. What could she feel?
Red fire. Pain. Agony. Torture. She stopped breathing, frightened even of the tiny movement of her rising chest. What was wrong with her?
Everything hurt. Just… everything. Her head was throbbing, her ribs clasped in a grip of iron that was squeezing far too tight. Where her stomach should be was a pool of molten lava, burning like acid. And below that? She shut her eyes, tried to feel her legs. Were they there? Maybe she just couldn’t feel them because of the waves of excruciating pain coming from everywhere else. Panicking, she felt her heart start to pound, and every ache around her body spiked in tandem with its furious beats. She tried to move her feet, to shift position; she was so uncomfortable.
“Mww!” It was somewhere between a gasp and a whimper. She’d only moved her legs a tiny bit, a cenitmetre maybe, but the explosion of agony that jolted through her had been enough to take her breath away.
“Okay, okay, love?” The man was frowning, the penlight clenched between his teeth, hands moving somewhere below Dylan’s waist. He stopped whatever he was doing and wiped his hand on his jacket. Dylan raked her eyes over the ugly contrast of hi-vis yellow and mouldy green jacket. There was an emblem stitched onto his shoulder, but she couldn’t focus on that. Was that blood he’d just wiped away? Blood from where he’d been touching her legs? Ragged gasps started hissing between her lips, each breath stabbing at her lungs. “Love?” The man was gripping her shoulder, shaking it. Dylan made herself look at him, tried to think through the terror. “What’s your name?”
“Dylan,” she whimpered.
“Dylan, I have to go away. Just for a minute. But I’ll be right back, I promise.”
He smiled at her, then stood up and began to jink his way down the carriage. As Dylan watched him go, she realised the thin coach was crowded with men and women in jackets: firemen, police, paramedics. Most of them were hunkered over seats or in new-made gaps, talking, treating, comforting – their faces grim.
Only Dylan seemed to be alone.
“Wait,” she croaked, far too late. She raised her hand, reaching in the direction he had disappeared, but the small effort exhausted her. She let her arm fold in half, dropping her hand to her face. It was wet. Her searching fingers found a mixture of tears, sweat and blood. Drawing her hand back, she stared at the shining mixture, glistening in the artificial brightness of torches and emergency lighting.
What had happened? Where was Tristan?
She remembered falling, bracing herself, arms stretched out, her only thought not tumbling down to lie with the bodies on the ground.
She’d let go of him. She’d let go of him to save herself, to keep her face out of the blood, the debris of death.
She’d let go of him.
Dylan’s lungs were aching, but she couldn’t stop herself gasping and retching. Her eyes stung and her throat constricted painfully. Whatever injuries she had dulled mercifully into the background and tears coursed down her face.
She’d let go of him.
“No,” she hissed through chapped lips. “No, no, no.”
Frantically, she shuffled position on the floor, then she thrust her hand into her pocket, ignoring the searing pain every movement triggered, fingers desperately searching. Her heart stopped for a painful moment. It was there. The flower. If that had made it through…
But where was he? Where was he? Why wasn’t he lying beside her?
Had she lost him when she’d let go of his hand?
“Right, this is her. Dylan?” Her name distracted her for a moment. “Dylan, we’re going to slide you onto this board, love. All right? We need to get you outside, get a proper look at your injuries. Once we’ve got you in the ambulance we’ll give you something for the pain. Can you understand me? Dylan, nod if you can understand me, sweetheart.”
She nodded obediently. She understood. An ambulance. Painkillers would be good; they’d help put out the fire burning in her belly. But they wouldn’t do anything for the gaping hole in her chest, the agony of being so empty. What had she done?
It took the men a while to get her loaded onto the ugly yellow stretcher. A high plastic collar was fixed round her neck, forcing her to stare up at the ceiling. The men were gentle, reassuring her constantly, worried about hurting her further. Dylan hardly heard them. It was all she could do to answer their questions, to squeeze yes and no through her lips. She was glad when they started to lift her, when she didn’t have to listen, and didn’t have to talk any more.
Getting her out of the carriage seemed to take a long time, but once they had her out and their feet crunched against the stones of the tunnel floor, she felt them moving along at a brisk walk. They seemed keen to get her outside as quickly as possible. Dylan couldn’t quite find it within herself to be alarmed by this fact.
The air changed as she was bumped and jostled along the tunnel. Wisps of breeze broke through the stagnant dampness and a fine mist of raindrops caught in the tendrils of her tangled fringe, cooled the fiery heat of her forehead. Dylan tried to look behind, to see around where the paramedic was leading her head-first out of the tunnel, but the neck brace and the straps around her shoulders meant she couldn’t move much at all, and trying to roll her eyes up and back sent stabbing pains shooting around her skull. Still, she glimpsed a blurry halo of natural brightness before she had to collapse back down onto the bed of the stretcher, panting from the tiny exertion. She was almost out.
Shuffling backwards, a careful step at a time, the two men eased Dylan into the murky grey of an autumn evening. She watched the stone archway, cut elegantly into the side of the hill, spit her out and then slowly recede, the gaping chasm reduced to quiet black. About ten metres away from the tunnel entrance, they turned her, began the lurching journey up the steep embankment. And that was when she saw him.
He was sitting to the left of the tunnel entrance, his hands wrapped around his knees, and he was staring at her. From this far away all that she could tell was that he was a boy, probably a teenager, with sandy hair that was being tossed around by the wind and whipping all around his face.
“Tristan,” she breathed. Relief and joy swelled in her chest. She drank in the sight of him, here, in her world.
He’d made it.
Someone stepped in between them, cut him off from her. A fireman. Dylan watched as whoever it was stooped down, wrapped a blanket around Tristan’s shoulders. He said something to him, a question. She watched Tristan shake his head. Slowly, slightly awkwardly, he levered himself up from the grass. Saying a final word to the fireman, he started shuffling in her direction. Just before he reached her side, he smiled.
“Hi,” he murmured, stretching out a hand to gently stroke the blanket that covered her. Trailing his fingers down her side, he grasped her hand.
“Hi,” she murmured back. Her lips twitched; a trembling smile. “You’re here.”
A huge and heartfelt thank you to the following people who have made
come to life:
To my husband, Chris, for believing in me and being my official “critic”. I love you. I am eternally grateful to Clare and Ruth for reading everything so quickly and for telling me that you loved it! Love and thanks to my parents, Cate and John, for supporting me and teaching me to love stories.
To Ben Illis, my agent, for holding my hand and shouting my praises. Thanks also to Helen Boyle and all at Templar for having faith in
and helping me mould it into something so much more than I could have ever achieved alone.
If you’re from the ‘Gow and you’re reading this – hello, and I miss you. Be good (and don’t forget to tuck your chairs in!). Thank you for teaching me how to take others into the world of make-believe.
And finally, thanks to Dylan and Tristan for appearing in my head and insisting that I write them down.
A TEMPLAR BOOK
First published in the UK in 2013 by Templar Publishing,
an imprint of The Templar Company Limited,
Deepdene Lodge, Deepdene Avenue, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 4AT, UK
This ebook edition first published in 2013 by Templar Publishing
All rights reserved
Copyright © Claire McFall 2013
The right of Claire McFall to be identified as Author of this work has been asserted
by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
ISBN (ePub) 978–1–84877–975–4
ISBN (Mobi) 978–1–84877–976–1