• CHAPTER ONE •
Wednesday, January 2
Christopher Lane stood on the sidewalk outside his house, his bags at his feet, and waited for the car that would take him back to school. He was half an hour early but was eager to get away, exhausted by the silence and tension in his house. It had been a difficult few days. His mother had not once celebrated Christmas with him in the seven years that had passed since his father’s death, and so, as usual, there had been no gifts exchanged, his efforts for their Christmas meal had gone unmentioned, and he had watched the New Year’s celebrations on the television by himself while his mother slept upstairs. This year, however, he had had even more to contend with—not the least of which was that he had barely slept the entire time, his mind plagued by the memory of the
boy he had killed. Chris had always managed to cope on his own, but for the first time in years, he had needed his mother. And she had let him down.
So much had changed since his twelfth birthday: His scholarship at Myers Holt Academy, the exclusive government school that he had enrolled at only a few months earlier, had included the payment of bills and renovations to his house. Everything possible had been offered to his mother to help her, and Chris had expected that for his mother, as much as for himself, this marked a new beginning. Instead, she had ignored it all, choosing to remain locked in self-pity. It was a decision that Chris could not begin to understand. He missed his father every day, but if he, at twelve years old, could understand that life had to go on, then surely so should his mother.
He had watched her over the last few days, staring blankly at the television, looking up only to bark orders in his direction, and any sympathy that he had previously felt completely disappeared. That morning, he had packed his bags with the clothes that his new school had bought for him and a photograph of his father and left without bothering to wake his mother up. He doubted that, even if she noticed he had left, she would care. Chris resolved to think no more of it until he returned home—which, assuming he was allowed to remain at school on their free weekends, would not be until the Easter holidays in three months’ time.
• • •
Chris jerked his head round at the sound of the familiar
voice. Kevin Blunt, his old nemesis, who had made his life a living nightmare at his old school, was walking quickly toward him, his gang following behind. For a split second, Chris felt himself tense up, before suddenly remembering what he was now capable of. He stood straight and watched the boys approach.
“Whatcha doing?” asked Kevin, looking down at the bags by Chris’s feet. “Your mum thrown you out?”
Arch, Kevin’s gormless sidekick, and the other boys laughed.
“I’m going back to school,” said Chris.
“Oh, yeah, didn’t you get into that special school?” asked Kevin.
“That’s right,” said Chris.
“What is it, a school for poor thieves who can’t take a beating?”
“Something like that,” said Chris, refusing to let Kevin rile him.
Kevin, on the other hand, grew increasingly agitated by Chris’s calmness.
“Hope you’ve learned something, then, ’cause I reckon I owe you a beating,” said Kevin. He walked up to Chris and looked him square in the eyes.
“I don’t think you want to do that, Kevin,” said Chris, looking around to make sure the coast was clear.
“Oh, yeah, and why’s that?”
“Because last time you threatened me with a beating, you ended up sitting in a tray of custard.”
Arch and the other boys laughed. Kevin’s face turned red.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
The boys all stopped laughing immediately. “Uh, nothing,” they all mumbled, looking down at their shoes.
“Good. You got lucky last time, Twist,” said Kevin, turning back to face Chris.
“I can do it again, Kevin, so back off,” said Chris, surprised at the confidence he had now that he knew about his Ability, the powers that all twelve-year-olds had for one year only. Lucky for Chris, this was a well-kept secret—one that Kevin, although twelve himself, was completely in the dark about.
Kevin frowned but didn’t respond. His eyes went down to the bag at Chris’s feet. Chris could tell Kevin was unnerved by his confidence.
“What’s in there?”
Kevin bent down.
“Don’t touch it,” said Chris, but it was too late. Kevin had already unzipped the bag.
“What?! Where did you get these from?” asked Kevin, pulling out a pair of designer sneakers that had been bought for him by the teachers at his new school after he had run away from home carrying nothing.
“They were a present,” said Chris, grabbing them out of Kevin’s hands.
“Yeah, right. Still robbing, then,” said Kevin, pulling out some more clothes from Chris’s bag.
Chris looked down at Kevin, and he clenched his jaw in anger. He breathed in deeply, reminding himself that the use of the Ability without the permission of his school was strictly banned.
Kevin, taking advantage of Chris’s silence, continued to rummage through the bag.
“Get your hands off my stuff!” said Chris.
“What’s this?” asked Kevin, pulling out the photograph of Chris’s father in his military uniform. Kevin smiled. If there was one thing he knew, it was that the surest way to rile Chris was to mention his family.
“Don’t touch that!” said Chris.
“If he was anything like you,” said Kevin, looking at the picture with a smirk, “he probably died trying to run away. The world’s a better place with one less coward from the Lane family.”
“He was a hero—not that you’d know anything about what that means,” said Chris, leaning forward to grab the picture.
Kevin snatched it away and held it up over his head. For a moment, Chris and Kevin stared at each other, and then, before Chris had a chance to react, Kevin opened his hand and the picture fell to the ground, the glass shattering all around their feet.
In that instant, Chris forgot all about the rules of Myers Holt and the consequences of using his Ability out in the open. He looked up at Kevin, and his mind went blank.
Arch and the rest of the gang, who had been laughing up until that point, turned silent as they watched Kevin begin to shake.
“Uh . . . what’s happening?” asked Kevin, suddenly looking very frightened. “Why am I—”
Before Kevin had a chance to finish the sentence, he flew straight up into the air, as if he were a rocket launched full throttle into space.
“Help me!” he screamed, but his friends didn’t react—they stayed rooted to the spot in shock as they watched Kevin flying up past the lampposts.
“Nobody insults my dad,” said Chris, never taking his eyes off Kevin, who was now a small figure way up past the rooftops.
And then, when he’d reached the point where he was barely visible anymore, Kevin stopped rising. For a moment, there was total silence as everybody watched Kevin, too high to be heard, flail about uselessly.
Chris furrowed his brow and placed the image of Kevin being thrown about in the air into his mind. As soon as he had done so, Kevin immediately began to move again, this time looping the loop over and over again.
“AaaaAAARRGHHaaaaargh . . .” Kevin’s screams increased in volume as he neared the ground, upside down, and faded out again as he was lifted up into the skies once more. Chris was about to throw Kevin into another loop when a booming shout interrupted him.
Chris jerked his head round, and immediately his focus was broken. There, to his horror, he saw the two figures of John and Ron, the security guards from Myers Holt Academy, standing by a long black car with darkened windows. The car doors were still open from where they had jumped out.
Chris hesitated and then opened his mouth to try to explain what had happened, but a loud screeching sound interrupted him.
Chris looked up and saw Kevin freefalling back to
Earth, his voice now loud and clear. John took three enormous strides forward, put his bulging arms out, and caught a whimpering Kevin with a soft thud. John leaned forward, then placed Kevin gently on his feet, his legs still trembling so hard that he fell backward into Arch, who put his arms out to hold him steady.
“What did you do?” blubbered Kevin, tears pouring down his face. “What was that?”
Chris was about to respond when Ron, wearing his trademark sunglasses and black suit, stepped forward and grabbed Kevin by the scruff of his neck. Although half the size of the gigantic John, Ron nevertheless cut a very intimidating figure when angry.
“Now you listen here, and the rest of you too. You saw nothing. You heard nothing. In fact, if anybody asks, you’re going to tell them you had a nice day at the park. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” whispered Kevin.
“Good. Now tell me, what did you do today?”
“We went to the park,” said Kevin, his bottom lip wobbling.
“And what did you do there?”
“We . . . um . . . played soccer?”
“Good,” said Ron. “Now, before you boys run home crying, I think there’s something you need to know. Unfortunately for you all, you are looking at two of the government’s top agents, which basically means we know everything. Isn’t that right, John?”
“That’s right, Ron,” said John, his arms folded across his enormous frame.
“You can’t so much as sneeze without us finding out about it,” continued Ron, “so, if we hear that one of you has breathed a word of what happened today, there will be consequences, and believe me, with the connections we have, the police won’t be coming to your rescue. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said Kevin, nodding his head vigorously, still sniffling.
“Good. Now get out of here.”
The boys all looked up at Ron—their eyes wide and teary, their bodies shaking with fear.
“Scram!” shouted Ron, and without giving Chris another look, Kevin turned and ran off, the other boys following quickly behind him.
“Come on, Christopher, let’s get this mess sorted out,” said John, stooping to pick up Chris’s bag.
Chris knelt down and started to pick up the clothes and shoes scattered about the pavement. “I’m going to be in so much trouble, aren’t I?”
“Only if your teachers find out about it. We’re not planning on telling anybody, are we, Ron?”
“I didn’t see anything at all, John, did you?” said Ron, picking up the shards of glass and placing them in a nearby bin.
“Not a thing, Ron,” said John, picking up the photograph of Chris’s father. “Bit of an accident here, though, but it’s nothing that Maura won’t be able to sort out. I’m sure she has a spare frame you could put this into.”
“Thank you,” said Chris. “I didn’t think . . . It’s just that . . .”
“You don’t have to explain anything, son. We saw what that boy did as we drove up. I’d have done exactly the same if I’d been in your position.”
Chris smiled, grateful to be back around people who genuinely cared for him. He put the last of his clothes back in the bag and zipped it up.
“Right, then, let’s forget all of this and get you to school. Your friends are waiting for you.”