The Horror! The Horror!

Boz and Slasher were crouched behind a clutch of dustbins looking into the cool, wide eyes of an all but invisible ninja.

“I’ve got the others to safety in the woods. Now all we have to do is join them and not get caught on the way. Follow me.” And with that she disappeared.

“Er, Flo. We can’t see you.”

“Hang on.” Dark Flo rummaged around in the nearest dustbin and returned triumphantly clutching a crumpled front page of the Beano, No 2275 from February 22nd 1986, depicting Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. She produced a large safety pin from the folds of her Shinobi shozoko. “Pin this to my backside. Carefully.”

“You’d better do it, Slasher. I’m too petrified.” Boz was indeed quaking. “She’s more terrifying than that Captain Tierrasmedias.”

“Shush. Now, come along. And keep low.”

After an age in pursuit of the waggling comic, crawling and pausing and melting into the shadows, the trio reached a hole cut neatly in the chain link boundary fence. Beyond it small paper flags of all nations, on wooden sticks, marked the location of various booby traps.

“Boz, pick up the flags as we pass them. And for Cod’s sake look where you’re putting your feet. Both of you.”

Having reached the edge of the woods they could breath again. Dark Flo led them through the undergrowth and followed a muddy ditch deep into the forest. Until…

“Boz! Slasher? We’re all here.” Ginsbergbear popped up in front of them and Phoebles pushed past him to rush at his comrades. There was whispered jubilation and hugs all round. Flo had an arm each around Phoebles and Ferdy, but Boz stood alone, quivering.

“What’s the matter, Boz?” enquired Ferdy.

The ginger cat turned. His hands were shaking and staring eyes glistened.

“This obscenity has to be ended. It stops here and it stops now. Flo, get them to safety. I’m going to finish him tonight. Just me. I can’t ask anyone else to do it.”

“But Bozzy, we don’t do that…” began Phoebles.

“Now, Flo!”

The ninja began ushering the protesting chums away. She glanced back, an anxious look in her tearful eyes, but she obeyed the command.

Once he was alone Boz slid down into the foul dyke. He stripped off his shirt and wallowed in the mud until his fur was caked and umber. Only his bloodshot eyes were visible against the growing darkness. He returned to the gap in the wire fence. Inside the stench of putrefaction seemed stronger than ever. The demonic amber glow from braziers and blazing torches danced intense shadows about the compound. Clashing gongs and booming drums drowned out all other sounds in a satanic cacophony. Capitáno Tierrasmedias’ drug crazed horde was working itself up into a frenzy before descending on the hapless defenders of liberty and freedom. Boz slithered unseen towards Les Augrès Manor.

After a while he was inching towards something indescribable that blocked his path, something with a Dayak Parang sticking in it. Boz pulled out the machete, wiped the blade on his trouser leg and tested its weight. Perfect. He crawled on.

A spectral figure rose slowly behind one of the dodo statues, eyes glinting gold in the flickering firelight, matted fur blending into the darkness. Boz strode up the steps to the mansion and sought out the Capitáno’s lair. The sofa was unoccupied. An empty Tennents lager can rolled noisily across the floor, coming to rest at his feet. The prostrate Napoleon lay in front of him on a moth-eaten kilim. A skeletal matchstick body, luminous skin stretched taught over bone, appended the globular head it no longer strove to support. Face to the ceiling, wide sightless eyes sunk deep into the skull, the deranged, hyperactive brain had finally drained all but the last vestige of vitality from its wasted host. The lips moved imperceptibly, were they trying to form words? Boz leaned towards the toothless mouth and suddenly a claw like hand grasped his shoulder, dragged him close.

“Crows’ blood!” it cried in anguish. Then, a rattle in the hollow throat, and Capitáno Tierrasmedias was gone.

Boz heard the padding splayed footfalls, the swish of a tail, the clicking of claws on bare floorboards, approaching at speed. He dropped the parang and legged it.


The Routemaster was still where they’d left it, partially burned out, but the radio and battery had escaped the fire.

“Versailles this is Bald Eagle!”

“What? Who?”

“Smee, is that you? It’s Boz here. Dump everything you’ve got on the Jersey Zoo. I want that abomination flattened, wiped off the face of the earth.”



The Way We Lied

She turned back to me and said, “I long for the air of the countryside, but London is far more convenient for me these days. I can do all I need to do far more easily here. It’s everything I need now; home, office, studio, all under one roof.” She stared at me, then said, “You’re very like her, you know.” And then she was silent, waiting for me to speak, while a tray of drinks was carried out and placed on the table.
“Yes, everyone says I’ve got my mother’s colouring. It’s the hair, I suppose.” I instinctively touched my fine straight blonde hair, tucking it back behind my ears.
“No it’s not the hair, it’s more the way you hold your head.” She looked at me intently with the bluest of eyes. “Turn that way,” she gestured towards the balcony, “Now pull your hair back over your shoulder with your other hand.” I did as she asked. “There, I can see it now. The neck. She had a very beautiful neck.”
“She still has,” I said, letting my hair fall over my shoulders and turning back. “She’s very ill, but she’s not dead yet.”
“Of course. I read your message. So why have you come to see me?” She held her head erect, staring at me again with those piercing eyes.
I hesitated, then said, “I thought you might want to know she hasn’t got much time left. I suppose I thought you might want to see her or send a message.”
“You could have told me that in your email. So why have you really come here?” She sat there, an elderly woman in a wheelchair, but she didn’t look frail or vulnerable. If she could be like this in her eighties, and I think I’d calculated she must be about 85, how imposing, how commanding must she have seemed all those years before? She was upright, her eyebrows arched, her tanned skin emphasised by her crisp white shirt, the cuffs folded back to reveal strong sinewy wrists and hands. I could only see a sliver of denim below the hem of her shirt, as her legs and feet were enfolded in a soft dove grey blanket.
And she was so direct, with her voice, her eyes and her manner, that I knew I had to tell her the truth. “I came out of curiosity. I wanted to see you for myself.”
She laughed. “And why would you want to do that?”
“Because I know that my mother loved you. And because you seem to have had such an enormous impact on so many other people’s lives too. My father, my aunt, my uncle….” I stumbled, shaken by the half smile on her bare lips and the glint in her eyes. Then I told her about the letters and, after some hesitation, how I felt guilty about taking them and she laughed even louder.
“How very quaint, how awfully Enid Blyton,” she said, fingering the scar on her forehead. “You surely don’t think I’m responsible for all those people? They were all quite independent adults, after all. I must have met hundreds of men and women in my lifetime who could say I’d influenced them. And I suppose some would say it was for the good and others might say the reverse. Am I meant to be the moral guardian of them all?”
She was right, of course, but I still needed to understand, so I persisted. “I wanted to make sense of it, that’s all. I didn’t understand then and I’m not sure I do now. So I wanted to know more about you.”
She smiled then, not cynically, not mockingly, but with gentleness and said, “Come with me. Then you’ll understand.” She pressed a button on the arm of her chair and it began to glide forward with the faintest whirring sound and she led me inside the cool airy interior and over to the lift. We entered and it carried us in silence to the ground floor lobby, where I had first entered the building. Opposite the lift door was a huge studded plate of steel, stretching up to the ceiling, which slid to one side when Mary pressed a button in the wall. Beyond was a cavernous hall, where several figures were at work, some drawing, some moulding clay, another sanding a bulbous stone form representing an enormous curved woman, her belly ripe with the child just emerging between her outspread legs.
“They aren’t art college students,” Mary said. “No one here has had a formal education. They haven’t been channelled into compartments, pumped with theories, they have come here to develop their potential, to grow and explore. That’s always been my mission in life.” She turned to look at me, then said, “I never tell people what to do, what to think, I just help them to find out for themselves. I may question their ideas, their motives, their ordered lives, but I’ve never made demands. Does that answer your questions?”
“Not entirely,” I said. “I wanted to know what sort of person could have such a powerful influence and especially to know what sort of woman could entrance my mother.”
“Come closer,” she said. I stepped towards her. “Kneel down,” she whispered, and I did. I knelt beside her wheel chair, facing her, my arms by my side. She lifted my hair with both her hands then bent forwards and kissed my lips. Her mouth was dry but still sensuous and I smelt, oh not the smell of an old woman fragrant with lavender soap and powder, but the musky scents of oak woods in autumn, beaches of silver sand and bleached shells and markets heavy with spices.
“Now you know, my child,” she said.
And I did.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 9

I race to the park as fast as I can. I’m desperately hoping June will be there and, as I round the corner and reach the park, I see that I am in luck. June is there, on the swing as usual. I pull open the squeaky gate and rush in, calling, ‘June! June! I’ve found out!’ She looks up from the swing as I arrive. No cuts and bruises this time, I note. This is good, this is very good: we are in time. ‘I’ve spoken to Gra- Lillian, and I know…I think I know how to stop it!’

‘Stop what?’ she asks. I have no idea how she can be so ignorant of her own actions, but then perhaps this is one of the times when it hasn’t happened yet and this version of her doesn’t remember it. I’ve no time to stop and think if that’s even possible, so I drop the thought for now.

‘The barn – the Others! June, I think I know how we can stop them!’

June tilts her head slightly and seems to narrow her eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her hand slip carefully to her pocket. ‘No need,’ she says, so matter of fact that I am almost blown away by it. ‘I already know what to do.’

Not for the first time, I am completely baffled by this girl. I turn my gaze to her pocket, where her hand appears to be gripping something. She sees this, shifts uncomfortably on the swing seat for a moment and looks – she looks guilty, I think.

‘June,’ I ask her, still looking at her pocket, ‘What have you got there?’

‘What have I got?’ she asks, airily, a little too airily if you ask me. ‘I ain’t got nothing.’ I am still looking and she knows this. ‘What I’ve got is a handful of none of your business, alright? I’ve worked it out and I know what to do. Now stop asking me questions; you’re no better’n the Others, sticking your nose in where it don’t belong!’

This hurts! I’m trying to help her – to save her, possibly even save her life and I am NOT like the others. I lunge for her on the swing. In the back of my mind is the thought that this is exactly what the Others would do and I’m angry with her and with myself for this. I’m proving her right and yet it doesn’t feel like my fault. As I lunge forward, there’s a crack in the air, as if the atmosphere between us is being sliced in two. June disappears and I think I will be left behind. I’ve no time to think about it though, as I feel a sudden pain in my fingers – as if they too are being sliced. I push myself forwards, almost as if trying to hold onto my own fingers. I honestly feel as if I’m going to lose them! There is a deafening noise, I feel like I’m going to be sick and then everything goes very dark. I feel as if I am falling and the feeling persists, longer than usual. Usually I fall to the ground and land in the past. This time I feel as if I am falling through a dark tunnel. I can hear the usual grinding noises but they are muffled – just as if I am underground, I think. I have no idea where I am, or where I am going. The falling sensation continues and I am frightened that it will never end. Usually I fall backwards through time with June as my guide and this time she has gone ahead without me. My fingers are still sore, but it’s too dark to inspect them for damage. That’s when I realise: I did fall with June!

I remember that as I lunged forward towards her on the swing, my fingers brushed against her arm and that was the moment she left. Something about my touching a travelling June must have made me travel too, but she went ahead without me and now I am without my guide. I am lost in time! I try to call out, to locate her, but my voice is muffled. It’s like one of those bad dreams, where you want to call out in your sleep but your mouth feels stuffed with cotton wool, or dirt. I know I need to find her, more than than anything. I shut my eyes tight – a bit pointless in the pitch black, I know, but it helps me to concentrate – and think of June. I picture her with her mousey hair and her scruffy dress. I picture her scowling face and make the images so vivid they feel real. As I do so, I feel my fall slowing, my ears fill up with noise and I land with a, ‘bump!’ on the ground. My head feels as if it is spinning and my eyes refuse to focus for a moment. I roll over slightly and vomit onto the ground. This feels utterly disgusting but it does seem to get the job done: a few moments more and my vision clears. Carefully, I stand up, and look about me, trying to ignore the small patch of sick by my left foot. I am not sure where I am, to start with, and a feeling of panic grips me, as I begin to think I have landed in the wrong place, possibly even in the wrong time. I force myself to be calm and to look about again. There is a washing line in front of me, cotton frocks and shirts flapping in the light summer breeze. ‘Aunty Doris’s washing line!’ I say out loud. So I have landed on the farm – just not in the barn. I should be able to find it from here, I think. I head off in one direction but then stop. I need Lillian. I need to find Lillian! I run towards the farmhouse and peer in the back door. Nobody can see me, after all. There’s no sign of Lillian in there. Perhaps she’s at the barn. I start to head that way, then I remember what Gran said,

‘I ran for the hen house…’

This is where I need to go. I run as fast as I can, reach the hen house, wrench open the wire door and almost tumble inside.

‘Lillian!’ I hiss. No answer. I call again, a little louder. Again there’s no answer, but I listen carefully and hear what sounds like a muffled sob. I peer to one side and can just about make out the shape of a little girl, huddled in a corner, hiding her face behind her folded arms. ‘Lillian, I need you!’ my voice is urgent. I’m not sure why I need her: perhaps because she’s Gran, although she doesn’t know that, of course.

She looks up, her arms sinking down by her sides and I can see, now my eyes are adjusting to the dim light, that her usually clean face is streaked with tears and dirt. I reach out a hand and she takes it. I wince slightly, at the touch of her hand on my sore fingers, but there appears to be no visible damage to them. They must have just got caught in the time vortex, or whatever it is I fell into.

‘I’m frightened, Ellie,’ she says, her voice small.

‘I know,’ I say, trying to make my own voice sound as calm and as brave as possible. ‘They’ve got her, haven’t they?’ She nods. ‘What did you see this time?’ Lillian shrugs and looks away, but I’ve got her on this one, I think. I know what she saw! I check it, in case Gran’s memories became muddled over the years. ‘You saw Freddie, Ida and Beryl taunting June, yes? Freddy had a stick and he was going to hit her – hit June – but she got him first, he fell forwards and they had a fight, yes? That’s what you saw.’

Lillian’s eyes are wide in her small face. ‘How did you-‘ she begins.

‘Never mind,’ I reply. ‘No time for that now. We need to stop it!’

Before she can protest, I run off, pulling her behind me. We reach the barn, out of breath and I burst in, just in time to see June in the middle of a wary semi-circle of the others. Freddy has one hand to his cheek, presumably nursing a blow from June. The girls are standing stock still. I motion for Lillian to stand by the door and creep over to one side, so I can see their faces. I am almost crawling along, making full use of some hay bales as cover. I know the Others can’t see me but I’m not sure if June should see me yet. Peering cautiously through the tiny gap between two of the bale, I see Beryl’s and Ida’s faces. They are mirroring each other’s expression, which is one of open-mouthed terror. I follow their gaze to June and realise what it is that has rooted them to the spot with fear. June is holding a box of matches in front of her, her left hand holding the box and her right hand holding a match, as if preparing to strike it. I am horrified! Either she has no idea how flammable a circle of hay bales is, or she simply does not care.

‘Take one more step and I’ll do it!’ she calls. There is a note of triumph in her voice but also something else, I think: fear. This must be what she had in her pocket at the park: the matches. She was right about knowing how to stop it, in a way. She’s seized the power from Freddy, but she’s afraid of it, I think. Perhaps she does understand the danger. If Freddy knows that, I realise, she’s doomed. If he gambles on her not striking that match, he can make his move and overpower her. I think she knows this, judging by the look on her face. I’m not sure Freddy does. If he doesn’t realise, or if he gambles wrongly and she goes for it anyway, we’re all doomed.

The air in the barn is almost alive with tension and I remember what Gran said, about the feeling of electricity in the air and then I remember what she said about the fire. I feel as if the static in the air has flowed into me and I suddenly leap forward, knocking June to the ground and, as luck would have it, through time. In an instant, we are back in the park. June glares at me, fury in her eyes, and goes to hit me. I have stolen her moment and we both know it. I dodge the blow and slap her back – partly because I am annoyed with her and partly because I realise that we are in the wrong place and time. This won’t do at all and I need to get her back, and quickly. Just as I thought, June immediately puts as much distance between us as she can – seventy years of distance. There’s the now expected cracking noise as she leaves but I am ready for this. I am already reaching out and I feel my fingers brush against her arm. Trying to ignore the sudden searing pain, I roll forwards and after her or, at any rate, back into the tunnel.

The Way We Lied

April, 2030

Mary is actually still alive. And incredibly, she is still working. I don’t know why I didn’t realise before how famous she is, possibly because sculpture isn’t something I’m interested in, but she is acclaimed, honoured and hugely successful. Mary Reid, O.B.E., whether that’s for her artistic contribution or her charitable work, I’m not sure, but she’s certainly somebody.
And so, I arranged to see her. Wikimeets listed contact details for her East London studio. I emailed, explaining that I am the daughter of one of Mary’s oldest and closest friends and she agreed to meet me.
It would have been quicker if I had taken the Underground, but I’m paranoid about the trains and the tunnels since the gas attack three years ago. They keep saying it could never happen again since they installed super sensitive detectors, but I’m not so sure, so I travelled from Tooting to Hackney on the E-bus, checking my route with my I-map , which told me the journey should only take an hour.
I passed the time rereading the biography I downloaded, to remind myself of the highlights of her career. Honorary doctorates, the Venice Biennale, international prizes; her work is exhibited in major international collections and fetches phenomenal sums from private collectors.
And the whole way, I was also asking myself why I was making this journey. I hadn’t told my mother I was going to meet Mary and I really didn’t know how she would react if she knew. After re-reading her letter I thought she would not want me to know that Mary had meant so much to her. And I didn’t know how Mary would react either. Perhaps she would want to send some words of comfort. But I was curious to meet this woman who had such an influence on the people closest to me and was mentioned by all of them.
Her studio is actually in a workspace and apartment complex in an old warehouse, in an area that used to be known as the creative hotbed of London about 20 years ago. Now it’s become so expensive and so exclusive, with high spec flat conversions all around, that all the young creatives and geeks are swarming round Peckham and Deptford.
I was buzzed in instantly once the entry system recognised me from the profile photo I sent when I confirmed the meeting. Take the lift to the third floor, announced a disembodied male voice, echoing slightly in the steel and brick foyer. I did as instructed and when the door opened, I was greeted by a tall black man with cheekbones carved from ebony. “Miss Reid is waiting for you outside,” he said, leading the way through a lofty room to a wide terrace, bordered with glass and steel, giving a view of the surrounding streets and the park. Gigantic galvanised steel urns, planted with airy bamboo and clipped cones of box, were spaced along the balcony at regular intervals in the warm spring sunshine and at the far end, sat beside a glass table and sheltered by a large cream canvas canopy, was Mary, in a wheelchair. Her hair was shorter and silvery now, her face older, with a ragged scar over her right eyebrow, but it was definitely her.
I hadn’t expected her to be incapacitated, but I concealed my surprise well I think. “Thank you so much for letting me come here,” I said, holding out my hand. She took it in hers, old with veins and spots of age, the fingers heavy with silver rings set with turquoise.
“I’m delighted to meet the daughter of an old friend,” she said, her voice deep and rich. She turned to her assistant, “We’ll have coffee out here, Ahmed. It’s such a lovely day. Far too good to be cooped up inside.”

No Hammerhead Sharks?

Smoke from incense burners and josticks curled in serpentine swirls about the room, their mixture of pungent aromas masking a sweeter, pervasive and much more disturbing smell, the lingering stench of decay.

“Has no one heard of Febreze?” exclaimed Phoebles

“I would discourse with Mr Boz,” said the capitáno, “the other one is irrelevant. Feed it to the hammerhead sharks.”

“Now just hang on one minute.” Phoebles’ response was urgent if a little squeaky.

“We have no hammerhead sharks,” replied Nimitta.

“Why not? Well, feed it to something.”

There was a movement in the deep shadows behind Capitáno Tierrasmedias and a figure stepped into the half-light, a figure in a grey homburg, black mask and gabardine trench coat.

“Sla…” began Phoebles.

Boz kicked his ankle.

“Perhaps he could be returned to his cage whilst your minions source a suitable carnivore.”

“I value your advice as always Mr McGoogs. Take it away.

“Now Mr Boz, are you familiar with the works of Nietzsche?” Silence. “Übermensch?” Still no response. “I shall explain. I am become Superman. Or to be more accurate, I will become Superman as soon as my brigands can find me a phone box in which to change.” Boz remained unenlightened.

“Milne then, have you read anything of his?” asked Tierrasmedias. Boz brightened at the mention of a more familiar author.

“‘You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes,’ said Pooh. Well we are coming, Mr Boz. We are coming.”

“If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in this ear,” replied Boz.

“Deep, Mr Boz. Profound. I can see that we will get on spiffingly. Sit.”


The captain had talked for hours.

“There can be no justice in war. Your dragon slayers like Beowulf, St George, John Lambton did not prevail because they were chivalrous and bold, they won because they were harder, more persistent and more brutal than the dragons. Your revolution did not succeed because you were just, but because Mr McGoogs here was more devious than the Government. Our counterrevolution will not succeed because we are patriotic, but because we have the greater force and will not fail to use it. Your countercounterrevolution will not founder because you do not have right on your side, but because you are weaker than me. Might and badass commanders win battles. And I am the biggest badass of them all.”

“But we must strive for justice and freedom and equality,” replied Boz.

“Why? I am going to win. I am going to win because no horror is inconceivable if it brings me victory.” Captain Midlands grew tired of the conversation. “Go now.”

“I will escort the prisoner back to his pen,” said McGoogs, “Perhaps tomorrow…”



Slasher and Boz walked at a steady pace across the compound, the stench of burning tyres hanging on the still air, the sound of clanging cymbals and subhuman howls drifting from behind the bike sheds.

“What in hell are you up to, Slasher?” demanded Boz.

“That nutter is doing more damage to his own side than he is to ours. I have been manipulating him.” Replied McGoogs.

“Well it’s got to stop.”

They reached the big cat enclosure and stared, stunned into silence. The cage had only one occupant, Nimitta, bound and gagged. There came a whisper from somewhere behind them.

“To me. Now.”


The Way We Lied

That is, I never looked at them again until now. When I came back from our old house with the contents of the buried box, I took the letters from the hidden drawer. I read them once the children were asleep, while Rob cooked our supper, so he didn’t see my tears and was unaware of my shame. I sat alone at my desk and read them one by one, then read them all again. It did not take me long. The eight letters were very short, but their words will stay with me for a long time. I understand them only too well now, and know why I should never have taken them.
I sat there once I had finished reading, thinking about the eight people who had written them with such frankness. I could not play the video Amy had filmed, even if it had still been functioning, as videos are a thing of the past. But I dimly remember it contained some images of my father, so I stamped on it and crushed it to be sure there was no possibility it could ever be viewed again.
And I wondered about Mary Reid and why she had had such an impact on all these people. Her name was vaguely familiar. Had I read about her in an article on an exhibition or was I thinking of her obituary? And whatever the implications, did it really matter? It all happened so very long ago.
Nick paid for his love of rich food and wine, when he was disabled by a severe stroke in his early sixties and now he cannot walk or speak. He requires constant care and has been living in a nursing home for the past fifteen years. Sarah visits him once a month and reports that she cannot stay long as her presence upsets him and she cannot bear his tears. She is still highly critical of others, but satisfies her own feelings of importance and entitlement by being chairwoman of the regional antiques appreciation society, a vocal member of the parish council and also chairman of the local village hall committee.
Dear Charles is still decent and charming and has been applauded and honoured for his charitable work, while Alex is eternally elegant and loves her recently acquired title of Lady Wilson. She is quite charitable herself these days, although I suspect she enjoys the celebrity garlanded events more than the organisations which benefit from the funds she helps to raise. And Helen is serene and her work is deservedly acclaimed. She eventually divorced Simon and he moved away so we never see him now.
And my father …… my father has worked conscientiously and tirelessly for peace for as long as I can remember. He is a good, good man and I will not allow anything to tarnish his name and his honourable record.
And my mother is dying. And her feelings are all I care for. I unfolded the crumpled press cutting she had enclosed with her letter. If this was all my mother had ever had of Mary, then she had kept nothing of this remarkable woman or their relationship for herself. She had devoted herself entirely, for the rest of her life, to her children, to her grandchildren and to my father. I felt she was blameless. But if this friendship was so precious to her, I wanted to know more about Mary. If she was still alive they could have one last chance to speak, to meet, to maybe say goodbye. Would that make amends for the terrible wrong I had done?

The Way We Lied

April, 2030

But, if I am honest with myself, that’s not all that happened then. I had always remembered that New Year’s Day as a time of happiness and laughter. Yet now I realise that perhaps there were adult tears I failed to notice, I was so intent on making mischief.
When did it occur to me and why did I do it? I think it was seeing the spare envelopes on the windowsill in the dining room, when I finished breakfast. I didn’t tell Amy. I didn’t tell anyone. I was breathless with excitement, suppressing my giggles, as I sneaked upstairs and filled the envelopes with folded paper, then sealed them. They looked exactly the same as the ones handed to my mother earlier. And later, while the adults were having a final coffee after breakfast, I quietly slipped through the kitchen and did the switch.
It seemed terribly funny to me at the time. I suppose I imagined revealing my trick just as the box was finally sealed, or telling Amy upstairs later and showing her my haul so we could snigger over the letters in secret. But in the end I didn’t do either. I saw their faces, my parents and the others, saw how serious they were about the whole process of sealing the box then burying it. And suddenly, it no longer seemed so funny.
Once everyone had left, once I was alone in my bedroom that night, I opened the envelopes and read the letters with a torch under the covers. I didn’t really understand them then. How could I, a girl of just eleven. But even I knew that those letters were never meant to be read and even I knew I could never tell anyone what I had done. I hid them in the secret compartment in the bottom of the musical jewellery box I had been given for my ninth birthday and never looked at them again.