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       Black Wood, p.2

           Jayde Scott
 
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  He didn’t lift his gaze from the box. “Bye.”

  ***

  “So, how was your first day at school?” her father asked as they walked up the broad road toward Ravencourt Manor.

  “All right.” Emily shrugged, gaze fixed on the wet asphalt. “I hope we won’t be staying here for long though.”

  “We’ll have to wait and see, Em. I know it’s not easy for you, but it’s not easy for me either.” He unlocked the front door. Together they walked to the kitchen where her father warmed up their dinner. “What’s that?” He pointed at the box.

  “Just some old book Aurelie gave me.”

  “What a nice lady, isn’t she?” Her father prepared her a cup of tea and placed it on the table. “Listen, why don’t you watch TV while you’re having your sausage and mash? I have to finish some work.” He turned on the TV on the counter and walked out of the kitchen.

  Although still full from the tuna sandwich, Emily finished her dinner and rushed to place her plate in the sink. On the way to her bedroom, she heard clattering. Her heart skipped a beat, and she stopped, frozen on the spot as she listened for more sounds. “Dad, is that you?” she shouted toward the staircase leading to the upper bedrooms. No one answered.

  Emily forced out a loud breath and resumed walking, her hand clutching the railing to guide her through the darkness. After a few steps, she heard it again. She leaned against the cold wall as her heart jumped in her throat. It sounded like someone was rattling a locked door. “Dad? This isn’t funny.”

  Although it was dark outside, the soft light of the moon seeped through the high windows in the hall. With her heart hammering in her chest, she took one slow step after another as she climbed up the stairs. The light on the landing flickered, then the bulb went black, and Emily could barely see the contours of the stairs. She hated when darkness crept into corners and turned furniture into hideous shapes. A shiver ran down her spine at what could be lurking there. Her skin turned into goosebumps, but she pushed the thoughts to the back of her mind.

  The rattling started again, this time louder than before. Emily sprinted through the corridor toward her grandmother’s bedroom, keeping her eyes fixed on the closed door. When she reached it, the rattling stopped. Should she go in? Maybe her father was inside.

  With shaking legs, she turned away and bolted along the long corridor. As soon as she reached her room, she grabbed the doorknob and pushed the door wide open. Inside, the curtains were not drawn, and she could see the moon high above Urquhart castle. She took a step forward. A black cat jumped up from her bed and hissed, then sprinted past her toward the open door. Emily shrieked.

  “Is everything all right?” Her father’s voice carried up the stairs. His footsteps pounded along the hall, and then he appeared in the doorway, a flashlight flickering in his hand. “What’s the matter?”

  Emily dropped to the floor and peered underneath the bed. “I think I saw a black cat.”

  “A cat? Are you sure?”

  Emily stood and brushed the dust off her jeans as she glared at him. “Dad, I know what a cat looks like.”

  “I’m sure you do, but how would a cat get in here?” Her father raised his eyebrows. “Now that I think of it, your grandma had a cat. Maybe it’s the same one.”

  Emily sat on the bed and hugged her pillow. “She used to leave a bowl of milk in the backyard. But we’ve been here two days. Shouldn’t we have seen him already?”

  “Maybe it was just a stray in search of a warm bed for the night,” her father said.

  “I’ll leave a bowl of milk in the kitchen, and then I shall look for him tomorrow.” She was so excited at the thought of having a cat to cuddle. In London, her mother hadn’t allowed a pet, but her father was different. He wouldn’t care. “What happened to the lights?” she asked.

  “The bulb needs to be changed. It’ll only take a moment.” Her father moved toward the door. “I need to get back to work. Good night.”

  “Good night,” Emily said, but he was already gone, leaving the door ajar. She frowned and slumped on her bed. Her father was so absorbed in work, he even forgot to tuck her in. She folded her arms and poked her lip out.

  A few moments later the light in the hall flickered on. The house was as silent as a mouse. Now what? Emily looked around for something to do. She missed the noise of their London residence and her brother Sam punching away on his Playstation. Her friends from school would pop in and out while her mother served them iced tea in the summer and Earl Grey in the winter. Every morning, the delicious scent of hot chocolate-chip cookies raisin buns would waft past her window from the bakery next door. On Sundays, her father would often surprise them with a plate full of steaming rolls, nut-topped croissants and cinnamon tartlets. Sam and she would then sit in the living room, munching on their breakfast while listening to their parents planning the day’s activities. And there were so many things to do and see in London. Watching the guards change at Buckingham Palace, feeding ducks in St James’s Park, smelling the impressive flower arrangements coming from all over the world at Kew Gardens. She even missed the things that used to make her barking mad, like her brother always barging in, borrowing things and never returning them.

  Her glance wandered to her bag and she remembered the diary. With its black cover and intricate carving, it looked a little odd and scary, but, since she had left her pink, glittery diary in London, she needed something else to write on.

  Emily removed the cloth and opened the box.

  Chapter 3

  Emily wiped her sweaty hands on the bedspread and ran her finger over the thick, yellow paper, turning one coarse page after another. Despite the old smell that tickled Emily’s nose, the diary showed hardly any wear and tear. She recalled the conversation with Aurelie. A diary that makes wishes come true, Aurelie had said. There were no stains or marks, nor any handwriting. It seemed no one had ever tried it.

  Emily felt a sudden need to start writing. She fought the need, but couldn't stop thinking about it. The more she resisted, the more she felt compelled. Aurelie had said the diary belonged to Emily now. She could do whatever she wanted with it. She opened the top drawer of her white desk and fished for a pen. Propping a pillow up behind her on the bed, she made herself comfy, then started writing, the words flowing easily as though a voice guided her.

  She chewed on her pen, thinking, until the exact words formed in her mind. She lowered the pen to the paper and scribbled, letting the words flow before she forgot them again. After a while she dropped the pen on the quilt, closed the diary and let out a big breath. Stretching her arms she yawned, relieved to find the voice in her head stopped nagging. She jumped off the bed and placed the book back in its box.

  When her clock struck seven, Emily skipped to the bathroom and ran a warm bubble bath while she brushed her teeth. She sighed as she stepped into the sudsy water. Sam wasn’t there to bang on the door and yell at her to hurry up every couple of minutes, so she could take as long as she wished now.

  After finishing her evening routine, she went to bed, thinking that maybe she could persuade her father to take her to see Loch Ness on the coming weekend. And maybe she could even persuade her mother to bring Sam to Scotland over Christmas instead of them visiting London with its crowded streets and traffic jams.

  Snuggled under her warm sheets, she tried to focus on reading a book her father had bought her at the airport, but after half an hour she realised her thoughts wouldn’t stop racing through her mind. Emily’s eyes felt heavy and she was too tired to concentrate. It was time for bed, anyway. Sighing, she switched off the lights and pulled the covers around her.

  Ravencourt Manor felt as cold and silent as a winter’s night. With the curtains drawn, the room was bathed in darkness.

  Emily tossed and turned, and then threw a glance at the digital clock. Already after nine, yet she couldn’t sleep. Darkness had never really troubled her that much, not even when she was a baby, but this was taking the word a bit too far. She cou
ldn’t even see her hands in front of her eyes, and she didn’t like that one bit.

  Shivering, she got up and walked to the windows, then pulled the thick curtain aside. The silvery light of the moon filled the room and gave the furniture their shape back. She shook her head. “I’m almost fourteen.” For a while, she just stood there, watching the dense forest stretching out to the north. “There’s no one out there.”

  As she turned away, she saw a shadow move outside the hedge from the corner of her eye.

  She scanned the entire length of the back garden. “Strange.” But there it was again, darting around the hedge as if trying to find a way in.

  Emily pressed her nose against the window, peering intently at the black shape. It was bigger than a cat or dog. And then it lifted its head and Emily saw shiny eyes that glowed like two hot, red flames staring back at her. She drew in her breath sharply and jumped away from the window, then closed the curtains. Counting to twenty she waited for her racing heart to calm down.

  Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. She moved back to the window. There was nothing except the wind ruffling through the leaves of the hedge that separated Ravencourt Manor from Aurelie’s house. Maybe she was dreaming or her imagination was playing tricks on her like her grandmother used to say.

  As she was about to turn away, she saw it again and her breath caught in her throat. And this time she realised it was a hunched figure that looked as if it had a huge cloak wrapped around it. A shiver ran down Emily’s spine. A split second later, the shadow retreated into the night. For a while, she just stood there, her eyes scanning the darkness below as she gasped for air unable to look away, but the figure was gone. Eventually, Emily went back to bed. But sleep wouldn’t come for a long time.

  The first rays of light began to appear when Emily finally drifted off into an exhausted sleep. Her last conscious thought was that perhaps the shadow hadn’t been wearing a cloak after all. It could’ve been fur. She snuggled into the sheets. She had needed glasses as a pre-schooler. Mum nagged all the time that she needed to get another pair. Maybe it was time to get her eyes examined to see whether her sight was getting worse, and she really needed glasses again.

  Chapter 4

  The sound of snoring jolted Emily awake. She sat up with a jerk and listened. It seemed to come from her own bed. Dad? No. He never snored a day in his life. She felt around with her foot. Her toe nudged something warm and hard. She screamed and scrambled to the floor, her heart pounding in her chest. There was a giant lump at the foot of her bed and she could swear its snoring shook the room. Poking the lump of covers, she flinched as a familiar face popped out.

  “Go away, squirt.”

  Emily gasped. “When did you get here?” She tugged at her brother’s arm and threw the covers off.

  “Come on. I’m tired. Let me sleep,” Sam mumbled, eyes still closed.

  “Wake up.”

  Sam’s eyes popped wide open. His gaze wandered around the room. “Holy cow!” He swallowed and his voice went up an octave. “How did I get here?”

  Emily crossed her arms. “That’s what I’m asking you, dummy. When did you and Mum get here?”

  Sam shook his head. “We didn't. We never left the house!” He tugged at his clothing. “This is crazy! I'm still in my pyjamas. The last thing I remember is going to bed after Mum had a go at me for coming home late from football practice. Now I wake up here. In your bed!” He looked at her. “Do you think I was abducted by aliens?”

  “Don’t be silly,” Emily said. “Why would they take you and why would they return you here?”

  “Maybe they got the address wrong.”

  Emily rolled her eyes. Trust her brother to bring up aliens at every opportunity. After putting on her slippers, she hurried to the door. “Maybe Mum’s here too. You stay put. If she’s not here and Dad sees you, he’ll be barking mad.”

  Emily bolted out of the room and down the corridor. The first rays of sun spilled in through the high windows. She stopped and blinked against the sudden brightness.

  The house was silent, her father still asleep in his bed. Emily looked downstairs, but there was no sign of her mother. Not even unpacked suitcases. She dashed back to her room where Sam’s questioning look met her. Slumping down on the bed, she glared at him. “I can’t believe you ran away from home. Do you have any idea how worried Mum’ll be? Maybe I’m dreaming and you’re not really here.”

  Sam bent toward her and pinched her arm.

  “Ouch! What was that for?” she cried out, then remembered to keep her voice down.

  Sam chuckled. “To prove it’s not a dream.”

  Emily poked a finger in his chest. “I get the point.”

  “How come Dad’s not up yet? It’s not like him to be asleep at seven,” Sam said, eyeing the clock on the bedside table.

  “Maybe he was up late. But who cares about that right now?” Emily blew out her breath. “We need to get you home before Mum and Dad find out. Let’s think. You can hide here until we find a way to send you back.”

  Sam lay back down on the bed and closed his eyes.

  “Hey! You can’t go back to sleep and let me do all the work.” Emily planted her hands on her hips.

  “Hush, I’m trying to focus. If aliens brought me here, then maybe they’ll take me back to London.”

  Emily grabbed her school uniform from the wardrobe and marched to the bathroom to get changed. “I’ll leave you to your aliens then, but do you think you could contact them from the wardrobe? Dad’ll probably be up soon, so maybe you should hide in there just in case he walks in while I’m fixing us breakfast.”

  “A good idea. Can you get me some orange juice and buttered toast with jam while you’re down there?”

  Emily scoffed. “You wish! I’m not your maid. Besides, I’m going to be late for school.”

  Sam looked at her with puppy dog eyes. “Please, Em. I’m starving.”

  “Okay, just this once.” Emily rolled her eyes as she hurried down the stairs in her socks, trying to avoid the three creaky floorboards.

  Sam wasn’t getting any toast from her. She grabbed a large bowl, filled it with cornflakes and poured milk over them, then poured a glass of orange juice. She drank it in one big gulp and refilled it, then carried the breakfast tray up the stairs.

  “Why do I need to get you breakfast when you can fix your own once Dad and I are gone?” Emily pushed the door shut with her foot and placed the breakfast tray on the night table.

  Sam eyed the bowl while taking a sip from the orange juice. “Told you I’m starving. You wouldn’t want Dad to find me downstairs, rummaging through the fridge now.” He pushed the bowl aside. “Soggy cornflakes, disgusting. Where’s the toast?”

  “Get your own.”

  “Come on!”

  Emily glared at him. “I don’t want to be late because of your toast. Dad’ll be leaving in ten minutes. Just get your own. But stay away from the windows. We don’t want the neighbours to see you.”

  “You’re such a pain.” Sam glared back, then plopped down on the pillows. “Okay, I’ll keep away from the windows. And, just in case the postman’s snooping around too, I’ll be as silent as a mouse.”

  “More like a monkey,” Emily muttered under her breath as she walked to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

  Her father was still in deep slumber when Emily entered his bedroom to wake him.

  “I don’t believe how late it is,” he muttered. “I had the strangest dream.”

  “Yeah, bad dream. Now hurry up, Dad.” Emily searched for a pair of socks in her father’s drawers as he buttoned up his shirt, and then followed him to his study. She watched him shuffle through his papers on his desk and stuff some of them into an old briefcase. A few minutes later he hurried out the house with his hair still in disarray.

  “What a lovely morning,” Aurelie shouted from her side of the hedge, but Emily and her father ignored her as they jumped into the car and sped off down the empty street.

  ***
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  The day couldn’t pass fast enough for Emily. The hours dragged on and on until she couldn’t stop fidgeting in her chair. Would Sam behave? Had he found a way to return home? She wished he didn’t have to go back because she didn’t want to be in that big old house with no one about.

  “Dad says I can do my homework back at the house,” Emily said from the backseat of Aurelie’s car after school.

  Aurelie glanced at her through the rear view mirror and squinted. “Your father never mentioned anything to me, dear.”

  “She knows you’re lying,” Clifford whispered into Emily’s ear.

  Emily ignored his words. “That’s because he was late for work this morning. I’ve been on my own before. He’ll get very mad if he hears you’ve kept me at your place instead of letting me finish my homework. I’m really behind and can’t concentrate with anyone about.” It wasn’t really that big of a lie, she really couldn’t focus with Clifford gawking at her all the time.

  Aurelie sighed. “All right, then. We wouldn’t want to make Edgar angry, would we? I’ll drive you home, but if you need anything, you just knock. By the way, have you started using the diary yet?”

  Emily’s mind froze. The diary. Of course. “No. Haven’t had time yet,” Emily replied, marvelling at how easily the lies poured from her lips today. Mum would be disappointed in her, but Mum wasn’t here. She tried to push the pang of guilt to the back of her mind.

  Aurelie stopped the small car in front of Ravencourt Manor, and Emily jumped out.

  “Thank you. See you tomorrow, Clifford,” she shouted, already on the threshold of Ravencourt Manor’s huge brass door. She fished for the key inside her schoolbag, unlocked the door, then shut it behind her. Pressing her ear against the door to listen, she waited until Aurelie’s car departed before she whispered toward the staircase, “Sam! Where are you?”

 
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