Mikhal knows his friends, Jake and Keira, are hiding something from him. He’s got his own problems, though – he’s failing pretty much everything at school, he just punched his best friend, and all he wants to do is play his guitar.
When Sharna Devon is assigned to tutor him, he can’t think of anything worse. Until his mum decides he needs to help out with her charity work. But soon he and Sharna are dragged into the mystery Jake and Keira are working so hard to conceal. Cari is still trapped between the worlds, and Cassidy Heights is in terrible danger. It seems this unlikely group of friends are the only hope that balance between the worlds can be restored.
It’s not going to be easy. What exactly does Mikhal’s music teacher know about Shar, the City of Silver Light? And can they stop the boundaries between the worlds eroding before it’s too late?
5 out of 5 stars, "Readers will be drawn in from the first page." A Creative Mind
"A resounding 5 stars" Terry Jackman - reviewer Albedo One
" ... beautifully written with intriguing world building ... " Christina - Ensconced in YA
" I love ... its delicious mix of genres; allegory, family story, fantasy, science fiction. ... "Readalot
"I heartily recommend this book at any reader who enjoys something a bit out of the general line." Sally Odgers, Children's and Teen Fiction Author
The moral rights of Ruth Fox to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Sharna looks nervous.
I’m wondering what she has to be nervous about – she’s not the one facing the Beige Mile. I call it that in my head. It’s not Green, and it’s not as dull, or as dingy as the one in the prison in that Stephen King movie, but it’s just as scary.
The phone beeps and she jumps. I wonder what’s up. I mean, I’ve got to know her pretty well lately, with all the time I’ve been spending sitting outside the reception office, waiting to see Mrs Hildebrand. Sharna is a monitor, which means she helps out in the office during lunch times, filing and organising papers, and typing up papers, and putting papers in pigeonholes instead of sitting outside chatting about the latest magazine quiz like normal girls.
Sharna doesn’t have a whole heap of friends and likes to keep to herself. She has a habit of talking over the top of other people. And she’s got this whole thing about the environment. She knows everything there is to know about endangered pandas and she has stickers on her bag for WWF and Greenpeace.
I’ve never been a good student like her. But, somehow, lately I’ve been even worse than usual. I’m coming down here almost every day. Even so, it doesn’t get any less scary, the more often you do it. The only good thing is that while I’m here, I’m not in Maths, or Science, or English, or any subject that involves books and teachers asking you questions. Books give me a headache, and not knowing the answers to questions just makes me feel stupid.
Sharna checks the phone – she’s not allowed to answer calls from outside lines, but it must be one of the teachers in one of the staff rooms, because she picks it up.
‘Yes, of course, I’ve got all of that right here,’ she says into the phone. ‘I’ll pass it along to Mrs Hildebrand. Okay. Okay. Not at all.’
She drops the phone, tapping the finger of one hand on her desk while riffling through some papers with the other. ‘I know Alice put it here somewhere . . .’
The door to Mrs Hildebrand’s office opens and some kid comes out. He’s wearing a brown jumper that doesn’t fit properly and his long blond hair – not longish hair, like mine, but actually down to his shoulders, I’m not kidding – is tied back with an elastic. He’s tall and thin and his skin is just-seen-a-ghost pale.
There’s lots of new kids at school lately, since a couple of the high schools got damaged in this massive snowstorm a few weeks ago, and their students ended up coming here. But something about this guy is just . . . weird.
‘Alice left me some forms for your guardian to sign, Aaron,’ Sharna says, looking up. ‘Just . . . ah, crap. Just a moment, okay? Everything’s a mess . . .’
Aaron smiles politely.
‘I . . . well, here’s a pen. If you can write down your address, I’ll post them to your . . . your guardian . . .’
Aaron takes the proffered pen, but she sucks in a little breath when his hand touches hers.
‘They’re in the drawer,’ he says.
She looks up, puzzled.
‘The papers,’ he clarifies. ‘You put them in the drawer.’
‘Oh – I did, too.’ She pulls out the correct papers and gives Aaron a bemused smile. ‘How did –’
The phone bleeps again, and she picks it up, giving me a chance to survey this newest new kid. I wonder if he’s Swedish or Icelandic or something. He speaks strangely, like he’s been taught English by a Professor of Language or something – every word precise and properly formed.
He turns and I don’t look away quickly enough. He sees me watching him.
His eyes. They’re really, really blue. They’re creepy. No one has eyes like that.
‘Mikhal?’ Sharna says, breaking into the moment as she puts the phone down, still not looking at me. ‘That was Mrs Hildebrand. She’s ready to see you now.’
She looks up at me. ‘Hey, Mikhal, thanks for inviting me to your party the other week.’
‘Did you have fun? You danced with Jake, right?’
She smiles. ‘Oh. Yeah, it was good to go out for once . . . anyway.’ She nods towards Mrs Hildebrand’s door. ‘It’s okay. She’s in a good mood today.’
I laugh. It comes out short and sharp. I know she’s just trying to make me feel better, but sometimes I wish she wouldn’t. It’s like she thinks I’m a decent person at heart. And I’m pretty sure she’s going to be disappointed when she finds out I’m not even close.
‘Mikhal,’ Mrs Hildebrand says. ‘Please, sit down.’
I’m already sitting. I know which chair I’m supposed to sit in – the one on the right of the desk, not the left. Mrs Hildebrand wears glasses and she’s partly blind in one eye. If I sit on her left she has to turn her whole head to see me. I’d rather keep a few papers and her PC screen between her gaze and me if I can.
She sighs. ‘As much as I like you as a person, Mikhal, I’m getting a little sick of seeing you.’
‘This isn’t about the incident with Andrew,’ she says. ‘At least, it’s not just about that incident, though it’s the most serious one so far. Andrew’s going to need stitches, and fighting with another student – whether it’s on school premises or not – will not be tolerated.’
‘He deserved it. He told me –’
She holds up a hand, cutting off my explanation. ‘I don’t want to hear that he started it, Mikhal.’
Since I was about to say exactly that, I shut up.
She rubs her temples. Obviously, she doesn’t care what had really happened. Andrew deserves every bit of pain and blood – and painful stitches – for what he said to me. We’d been put in a group together for music class. Mr Jackson told us to come up with a three minute composition, which we’d be recording in the next lesson.
‘I need to be on the drums,’ he said, whacking me on the shoulder with the drumstick. ‘And you, Miky, you should sing. You’ve got the most girly voice out of all of us.’
I bristled as he kept it up, tapping me on the head, the ears, the arm. ‘I’m not going to sing in front of the class.’
‘Why not? Because you’re so shy and retiring? Just do it.’ Whack, whack, whack.
‘I’d rather be on the drums, since you suck at them so much,’ I said, grabbing the drumstick off him. He was still holding it tight, and as I wrenched it, it snapped.
‘Ooooh, Mr Jackson’s not going to be happy! You’re going to have to pay for it. Oh well. It’s not like your mum can’t afford to.’ He said this casually, turning away. ‘Either that or she could get you a replacement out of one of the charity bins!’
Everyone around us who’d heard what he said laughed, because just like they all know my mum and dad are solicitors, and good ones – good enough to have a decent amount of money – they all know Mum has been doing charity work lately, running around the Salvos stores and supermarkets. Cassidy Heights is a small place. Almost everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
I’m not an angry person, usually, but when he said that, I saw red. When I was a little kid, I didn’t know our family was any different to anyone else’s. I didn’t give a crap about the size of people’s houses or whether they had an indoor pool or not. Nobody else seemed to care that much, either – if Jake or one of my other friends wanted a swim, or wanted to play the Playstation on a big screen, they’d just come over to my place. If we wanted to kick a ball around, or pretend to be secret agents, or whatever, we’d go to their places. Andrew was one of those friends, too.
But I realised, when I got older, that this stuff actually did matter. People can wish they had what you had, and can hate you for having it when they didn’t.
And since the snowstorm a few weeks ago, I realised they hate you even more when you try to help them out. It’s so stupid. I know money doesn’t come from nowhere. You have to work hard for it, like my mum and dad do.
All this went through my mind as I looked at Andrew’s stupid face. He was my friend, but in that moment, it really didn’t seem like it. He wasn’t even laughing like the others.
During the snowstorm, the roof of Andrew’s parents’ house had collapsed. They’d lost a lot of their clothes and Andrew’s computer and stuff. They had trouble with the insurance – his dad was late with some payments last year or something – and though the electricity had been put back on, they couldn’t pay all the repairs, so they didn’t have running hot water yet. Mum had taken a box of clothes and canned tomato soup over to their house, since she knew his parents so well from all the sleepovers and birthday parties we’d shared as kids.
And, obviously, Andrew wasn’t exactly grateful. That hard-eyed glare he gave me told me he thought it was somehow my fault. I didn’t know how I could prove to him I wasn’t just being arrogant.
So I hit him.
And I guess that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or the straw that split his lip, or something, because here I am, back in Mrs Hildebrand’s office for the seventh time since, well, since I started counting the times I’ve been sent here.
‘It’s about your overall performance at school. Mr Jackson has good reports about your work in Music, but you don’t seem to want to apply it. Your class-work is sloppy. You don’t get good marks on your assignments. You rarely do homework. You do want to pass, don’t you? You don’t want to be kept down?’
‘No,’ I say. I don’t. I really don’t.
‘Well, at the rate you’re going, you’ll be lucky if you don’t fail.’
My shock shows in my face. I know, because her gaze instantly turns softer. ‘Look.’ She pushes her glasses up and leans forwards. That gaze I was avoiding settles right on me. I shift uncomfortably. ‘Mr Jackson has put in a good word for you, and it’s not impossible. There are programs for young people like you at TAFE. You might want to consider an alternative program – something in technology studies, or an apprenticeship –‘
‘No!’ It just bursts out. It’s Mrs Hildebrand’s turn to look shocked. ‘I – I mean – I’m not a – I’m not slow. I don’t have a learning disability or anything.’
‘I’m not saying that you do,’ she says carefully. ‘I’m just suggesting that you might benefit from doing something outside of school, something to balance the load, you see?’
I don’t, not really.
‘If you can find something that you’re interested in, something to focus on, and you’re willing to work at it, I think it will really help you.’
‘It won’t mean you don’t have to do your schoolwork, okay? But if you enrol in a vocational program, we’ll be able to negotiate credits.’
I sigh. ‘Okay.’
‘Do some research,’ she goes on, satisfied that I’m taking her seriously. ‘Find something you can be passionate about. We’ll take it from there. Okay?’
‘Okay,’ I say meekly. Mrs Hildebrand is satisfied. She smiles.
‘Now, I’ve also arranged for you to work with a student tutor in your class. She can act as your mentor and make sure your work is up to standard.’
‘Who is it?’
‘Don’t look so worried. I just think it might be easier for you to work with someone your own age during class time. Now, I don’t ever want you in my office again, Mikhal. You’re too smart for this.’
I dodge to one side. I know that voice well enough to know that the best response is to duck and cover. Sure enough, Keira the whirlwind dives past me, just missing me with her backpack. Keira Leichman isn’t big, but she likes to hit people more than girls usually do. I’m all for equality of the sexes, but not when it involves me getting clobbered over the head.
‘Where were you in History? You left me alone with Mr Morris and his droning voice, and I didn’t have anyone’s folder to scribble on. It was boring.’
There are birds in the trees on the other side of the bus shelter. Heaps of them, and they’re loud.
‘The Andrew thing . . .’ I mutter.
‘Oh.’ The light goes out of her face. Keira’s got a history with Andrew – they went out for a bit, but Andrew was an idiot, and they broke up pretty quickly. He’s not her favourite person, either. ‘You’re not getting suspended, are you?’
Keira’s changed; I realise. She’s always been energetic, but she used to be kind of flaky. During the snowstorm, though, she broke her ankle. She spent a couple of weeks out of school after that. When she came back, her ankle had healed completely – like it had never been broken at all – and there was something . . . deeper about her.
And I had plenty of time to notice. She’s been spending a lot of time with my mum, helping out with this charity drive stuff. She still laughs and jokes. She still runs around like a crazy person. But now she does it with a purpose.
‘No,’ I say, and she sighs with relief. The birds screech even more loudly.
‘So, anyway, you have to meet my friend. He’s staying here for a while.’
She grabs my shoulders to spin me around. ‘Hey! Aaron!’ she yells in my ear.
Aaron. Yep, it’s the boy I saw at the reception desk. He looks just as strange and out-of-place in the school grounds as he did there. But when he sees Keira he smiles, and it’s a real smile; I can tell he’s happy to see her.
‘Aaron, this is Mikhal, he’s awesome. Mikhal, this is Aaron.’
‘Hi,’ I say, holding out a hand. He shies away like I’ve moved to hit him, and I’m thinking – wow, has word of my violent explosion spread that far already?
Keira doesn’t notice. Or if she does, she does a good job of hiding it by changing the subject. ‘You’ll have to go to Mikhal’s place and play Revenge of the Living Dead on the 50 inch plasma,’ she tells Aaron. To me, she says: ‘He’s totally into zombie shoot-em-ups.’
‘Great,’ I return, faking the enthusiasm. Suddenly, though, I’m hit with a wave of loneliness. It’s ages since I’ve hung out with Keira and everyone. ‘Hey, we should go to the mall. A few rounds at the arcade would be great.’
Keira looks at Aaron. ‘We’ve gotta go,’ she says slowly, and I can tell she’s being careful. ‘But some other time, right? I’ll be at your place on Saturday, anyway. Your mum has more charity stuff to sort.’
My whole plan to avoid going home and dealing with the fallout from today’s explosion evaporates as they vanish into the crowd.
I turn around and find Sharna Devon standing behind me. ‘Oh, hi.’ I edge away. I don’t really want to talk to her. I’m not in the mood for a lecture on the threats to the Great Barrier Reef.
‘Mrs Hildebrand asked me to speak to you,’ she says, following me. ‘You need tutoring?’
‘Um, no,’ I say. ‘I mean, yeah, I guess. But I –‘
‘Well, we’ll get started on Monday, okay? I’m in all your classes anyway, except for Drama, so it’ll work out great.’
‘Really?’ I groan inwardly. I don’t exactly hate Sharna, but there are a thousand other people I’d rather spend the day with.
‘Yeah!’ She grins enthusiastically. ‘And we can do some work in the evenings, too, right? I’ll make sure you’re getting all your homework done. You’ll be getting great marks in no time.’ She looks up at the birds in the trees, distractedly, and frowns, murmuring: ‘It’s strange for there to be so many magpies around at this time of year . . .’
‘Great.’ Could this day get any better? I feel like banging my head on a brick wall. Then, suddenly, an idea hits me. ‘Oh, hey, you know? That English essay about ‘Something that’s important to you’. I haven’t even started yet.’
Her eyes light up like I’ve given her a present. ‘Perfect! We can start right now!’
I nod. ‘Yeah. Perfect.’
Sure enough, when we get home, Mum’s sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. I miss the way she spent so much time at work she was hardly ever at home. I miss the way she used to bury herself in her study whenever she was home.
‘Mikhal,’ she says, then notices I’m not alone. ‘Oh. Hello.’
‘Mum, this is Sharna.’ I lead her into the kitchen, and she looks around, reminding me of an owl with her unblinking eyes. ‘She’s going to be my tutor.’
Mum looks suspicious. ‘Oh. I see.’
‘We’re going to get started right away,’ I tell her, edging out of the room. ‘I’ve got an English essay.’
Mum stands up and catches me just before I get to the door. ‘I think we should have a family dinner tonight,’ she says quietly.
I nearly choke.
‘Um –’ The last time we ate at the table together I’d cooked a dinner for her birthday because I’d heard her complaining on the phone the night before, to one of her gardening club friends that she missed her mum’s tuna rice casserole.
I spent ages preparing it. I’m not really a culinary chef. I’d propped my laptop on the kitchen bench and listened to some British dude’s YouTube instructions. It came out a bit blackened at the edges, and I think I used too much rice and it ran over the sides in the oven and stuck to the element, so the kitchen smelled like garlic for three days. Anyway, it turned out I should have set a place at the table for her Blackberry, though, because she spent the whole meal talking to a client about injunctions and cross claims.
She didn’t eat a bite of the tuna rice casserole.
‘We’ve got some things to discuss when your dad gets home,’ she goes on, interrupting my thoughts. ‘So I thought we’d get some pizzas delivered.’
‘Pizza?’ She’s all surprises tonight. ‘Sure. Okay.’ And then I turn to Sharna, who’s paused just outside the door, waiting for me but politely not paying attention. ‘Sharna, you like pizza, right?’
Mum glares at me, knowing exactly what I’m doing, and I feel bad. I really do, especially when Sharna leaps on the invitation like a starving person. ‘I’m vegan. But Pizza Place does a cheese-free option.’
We go into the lounge room to work. I choose this room because that’s where the Playstation is, and as soon as we sit down I sign into Third Planet Invasion. ‘You can play on Baz’s user account,’ I tell her. ‘He’s got a crap score, so you can boost him up –’
‘What do you want to do your essay on?’ she interrupts, opening a folder on the coffee table. ‘I’ll tell you a secret – if you choose something you’re interested in, it makes it so much easier. You can write as much as you want and then just cut it down.’
I stare at her, astounded. ‘Why would I write more than what I have to?’
‘Because . . .’ she shakes her head, just as bewildered as I am, but for different reasons. ‘Anyway. What do you really care about?’
‘Um . . . zombie games.’ I say. ‘Hey! I could compare two really great games –‘
‘I don’t think that’s deep enough. It’s not going to give you much room to explore.’
I sigh and look back at the screen. My guy is getting murdered by rabid zombies, and there’s a lot of blood and gore, but somehow I get the feeling Sharna isn’t going to let me take a break to rescue him before we’ve even started working.
‘What about your mum and dad’s legal work? You could look into what they do with their clients . . .’
‘Yeah, but I don’t care about that. It’s boring. It’s really, really, boring.’
Sharna sighs, exasperated, and I wonder if she’s having second thoughts about tutoring me.
I try to reign in my boredom as I get my laptop from my room and start tapping in a few words. Sharna leans in over my shoulder. ‘Are you sure you want to start like that?’ It’s safe to say that by the time the doorbell rings, I’m already over this whole tutoring thing. ‘Gotta get that!’ I leap up so fast you’d think the house was on fire. Downstairs, I’m grateful to see that the delivery guy is my friend Donnie.
He’s already heard about me being sent to the Principal’s office again – I guess everyone’s talking about it – and asks for details.
‘Dude,’ I whisper. ‘I’m dying here. Mum’s never been this weird before. She’s not yelling, or anything. I think she’s planning to kill me and bury my body under one of her rosebushes.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Donnie gives a knowing wink. ‘Double Pepperoni with extra cheese and a small vegan-veggie-tasteless-special. I put in a box of Dipsticks as well. You’ll be set to face anything after that.’
Never ask a pizza delivery boy for life advice.
He shrugs. ‘I’d stay and help you out, man, be a buffer or whatever, but I’ve got three more runs to make and if the pizzas don’t arrive on time, hot, and with a smile, I get docked.’
I tell him to get lost then. ‘I’ve got a friend around, anyway.’
He looks past me and through the arched door to the living room he sees Sharna sitting on the couch. He raises his eyebrows.
‘She’s tutoring me,’ I explain, and roll my eyes. Donnie gives me a sympathetic look before he leaves, and I tell Sharna to come and eat.
Mum’s waiting for us in the dining area of the kitchen. She’s even lit the old-fashioned wood stove. The crackling fire makes the room seem warm and comfy in a way it hasn’t for a long time. ‘Harry?’ she calls.
Dad has super-tuned hearing, which I think comes from twenty years of listening to clients mutter their secrets on the witness stand. He once heard me flushing a piece of Grandma’s disgusting three-bean pie down the ensuite toilet in one of the guest bedrooms at the other end of the house.
He’d made me clean all three bathrooms under Anna’s supervision. And Anna doesn’t let a speck of soap scum pass her inspection.
So he arrives a few moments later, and sits down next to Mum, leaving me to face them like I’m on trial. And poor Sharna is left sitting on the end. She doesn’t look uncomfortable, which is good, but I can’t help feeling that she must know she’s here to be a buffer, not because I actually want her.
They’re both silent, so I reach for a piece of pizza, which smells darn good. Dad chooses that moment to clear his throat. I take my hand back guiltily.
‘So, Sharna,’ he says. ‘I knew your mother. It’s nice of you to help Mikhal out.’
‘Oh, I don’t mind. I don’t have a very busy schedule.’ She speaks in the way my parents like people to speak – concise, polite. I can feel them radiating approval.
‘Still, it’s very generous of you to volunteer your time. Mikhal has certain problems with –’
‘Hang on,’ I burst in. ‘I’m sitting right here!’
‘Mikhal,’ he says levelly. ‘You know we love you, and we want the best for you.’
I nod. Nothing good ever follows a sentence like that.
‘We had a call from your school today,’ Mum jumps in. I can tell this is it. The floodgates are open now, and nothing’s going to hold them back, not even Sharna’s presence. ‘They’re very concerned about your performance.’
I nod again, waiting for it.
‘Bad marks –’ explodes Mum. ‘That’s bad enough, but –’
‘Fighting?’ Dad splutters. ‘I would have thought better of you.’
‘If you can’t control yourself around other students –’
‘I thought we’d bought you up knowing –’
‘About conflict resolution.’
‘Putting a boy in hospital? I’m ashamed of you, Mikhal. You and Andrew used to be friends. What happened?’
I could tell them so many things, but I don’t think my words will be heard under this barrage.
Finally, Dad says: ‘Mrs Hildebrand made some helpful suggestions.’
‘Dad,’ I say carefully and calmly. ‘I don’t really need to do that stuff. I promise I’ll work harder. I’ll do my homework. I’ll go to all my classes. And Sharna . . .’
I look across at her, and see that she’s frozen, her hands on the edge of the table. Her lips are pinched. I feel like an absolute tool for putting her in the middle of this.
‘Mikhal, you know that’s not going to be enough. I really think there’s something to this. That’s what your mum and I have been talking about.’
‘This is what we’ve decided,’ Mum says. ‘You’ll help me out with the charity drive. Volunteer work is such a rewarding experience, Miky. You can really make a difference.’
I glare at her. ‘You want me to sell hotdogs outside the church? How is that supposed to help my schoolwork?’
‘It’s not forever,’ she tells me quietly. ‘And Mrs Hildebrand agreed it was a good idea.’
‘It’s community service! They make criminals do shit like that –‘
‘Miky! Watch your mouth!’ she snaps. ‘You could have been expelled. Or worse. Andrew’s parents had every right to press charges.’
‘They wouldn’t,’ I mutter. ‘They know who you are.’
‘That’s enough!’ Dad slaps the table. ‘You’re doing this, and if it doesn’t teach you to fly straight and take some responsibility for your actions and your life, nothing will.’
Dad’s good at making speeches. He loves it, especially if he can make it sound like he’s smart and philosophical. He is smart and philosophical, of course, but that’s beside the point, and the point is that speeches are completely useless in the real world. You can’t fix everything by stringing a load of long words together. You can’t fix me.
‘Look,’ Mum says, sounding calm and collected now that Dad’s the one playing Bad Cop. ‘We’ll work this out, okay? There are plenty of options. We’ll just find one that suits you.’
I swallow all my angry protests and nod because there’s nothing I can say that they will actually listen to.
Dad smiles tightly. He takes a slice of pizza, puts it on a plate, leans over to rub my shoulder, and leaves the room.
Mum takes out her Blackberry.
‘So,’ Sharna says. ‘You could do your essay on charities! That would be ideal. You could look at the different ways people are receiving help . . .’
I sigh and start shovelling pizza into my mouth. It’s already cold.
My room is my sanctuary. It’s on the third floor, which is a converted attic, fitted under the roof so the ceiling slopes and my band posters keep falling off it. Fall Out Boy has a rip down the centre, and Brand New sags alarmingly. Blink 182 – old-school, but nevertheless worthy – spends more time on the floor than in it’s rightful place above the Silversun Pickups, and next to Alter Ego.
I have a pact with Anna that while she can vacuum my floor or change my sheets any time she wants, she doesn’t touch my desk.
She says she doesn’t get paid enough to reconstruct a bomb site anyway.
It works out well for both of us.
She’s in there when I climb the stairs after finally getting Sharna to go home. She’s hanging a few shirts in the wardrobe.
‘There’s pizza in the fridge,’ I tell her. ‘If you want some. And anyway, shouldn’t you be home?’
She raises an eyebrow. ‘Trouble?’
She smiles gently and changes the subject. ‘How’s Roger?’
For my birthday, Mum wanted to get me a new laptop. Instead, I got her to take me to the music shop in the mall. They don’t like me in there because I was always going in there to look at the green guitar and not buying anything.
Ron, the owner, was overjoyed to finally sell him to me. Roger is second hand and a shiny green. I knew as soon as I saw him that I needed that guitar. And even though there is a scuff mark on the fret board, and the previous owner somehow felt the need to draw a little smiley face above the input jack, I knew it was my guitar.
Roger hooks up nicely to my stereo system. He sits there, waiting for me to play him. But I haven’t had the courage yet.
‘Good.’ I say this earnestly. ‘He’s good. I’m . . . not so much.’
‘Hey,’ she slaps my hand. ‘None of that. I’ve heard you play.’
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘I’m just too scared. But I replaced the pickups and I got a new strap . . .’
‘I’ll pretend I know what you’re talking about,’ Anna says. ‘Anyway, he looks handsome.’
I change the subject. ‘You’re not usually here this late.’
‘Your mum is letting me put in a few extra hours. I’m a bit strapped for cash at the moment. Lily – there’s this special school. They cater to kids with severe disabilities. If I had enough to cover the fees –’
Lily is Anna’s daughter. She was born with a weak heart and all kinds of health problems. She needs constant care. Even though she never complains, I know it must be really hard for Anna to deal with.
‘Better get back to it,’ she says with a smile. ‘Just be good, okay, Miky? This will all work out.’
I smile at her, because no matter what my problems are, hers are so much worse, and I feel selfish being miserable about them.
She leaves, flicking off the light as she goes because she knows I prefer the dark. I look at Roger in the light coming from my laptop screen. I grab my notebook out of my pocket and flick it open to my latest song. I wrote this one for Roger.
But I can’t do it, not tonight. I pick up Old Faithful, the acoustic guitar I’ve had since forever, and strum out a tune.
It’s easy to create music.
‘Music is a force,’ Mr Jackson is always telling us in music class. ‘It’s powerful enough to make you feel and remember. It’s a formidable tool.’
He always says things like that, and he sounds kind of half-crazy when he does, but I can see exactly what he means every time I pick up my guitar or sing a few lines of a song.
If only life was made up of notes and melody, the way songs are. I could just cross it out and rewrite it all. Only better.
It’s Charity Day.
I stopped thinking of Saturdays as Saturdays a few weeks ago, when our house stopped being a house and started being Charity Collection Headquarters. On Saturdays, every bag and box of donated goods in Cassidy Heights ends up in our garage, and the Charity Mums show up to sort them, catalogue them, and drive them all over town.
Mum storms in. If there was a cartoon thundercloud hanging over her head, shooting little lightning bolts, she couldn’t look more angry.
‘I labelled those boxes specifically. They were supposed to go to the city centre.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Nina says. Nina is engaged to my friend Jake’s dad. She’s the one who started all this charity stuff, so I guess I can blame her for it all . . . but I can’t help liking her anyway. She’s always kind and she puts up with my mum snapping at her like it’s no big deal, like she gets that Mum doesn’t really mean it. ‘It’s my fault. I left Hayley in charge. That box was with all the others. When the truck showed up, she just told them to load everything.’
Mum sighs. ‘It’s the second time it’s happened.’
‘It’s not the end of the world,’ Nina says, pausing for a moment to pat her stomach.
‘Oh, would you please sit down for a minute, at least?’ Mum scolds her. ‘You’re making me nervous.’
Nina smiles. She’s been doing that a lot, and it suits her. But I think she’s had enough of people hovering around her. ‘Don’t be ridiculous! I’m pregnant, not dying. There’s so much work to do . . .’
Mum spies me. ‘Mikhal, you can go and help Keira in the garage for a while, can’t you?’
‘I was going to go and see Baz –’
Mum gives me a Look. It’s the kind of Look that needs a capital ‘L’, the kind you don’t argue against.
I head for the garage.
It’s a big garage. It fits six cars, but Mum usually parks her Jeep in the driveway, and Dad’s Mercedes is never here because neither is he. I used to be able to skateboard in here. Not anymore though; every inch of it is boxes and crates and those big garbage bags, and tables with folded clothes and cans of food and blankets, and all kinds of the junk that turns up in charity bins.
It’s not a bad smell. It’s just a smell of a hundred different people, and households, and materials all rolled into one. It’s the smell of dust, and mildew, and blankets that have been folded up in cupboards for too long. Even with the door open and a cold breeze blowing in, it’s almost overpowering.
My lip curls up. There are a thousand things I’d rather be doing than this.
There are two other people in the garage, folding clothes into two piles. Keira and Aaron.
‘Nina’s got a load of boxes in her car,’ Keira says. ‘We just need to bring them in. Aaron, you want to help us?’
Aaron looks up and gives her a single nod. How can anyone look so serious all the time?
Keira nudges me. ‘Don’t look so down. It’ll be over before you know it.’
I follow her through the garage door to Nina’s car. It’s parked next to Mum’s neatly-trimmed box hedge, and there’s another group of those damn magpies screeching like it’s a football match. Not loudly enough to cover the raised voices of a man and a woman who are arguing over a tarp-covered trailer, though.
‘It’s due back at the rental place at lunch time,’ she’s saying. ‘You should have told me you needed it longer.’
‘I was going to leave earlier! I got held up –’ he replies, exasperated. I’ve seen them before, two more of Mum and Nina’s recruits; and I wonder how they sold this charity stuff to them, since neither of the sound too enthusiastic right now.
‘You know, it seems like no one knows what anyone’s doing,’ I murmur to Kiera and Aaron. ‘Who’s in charge, anyway?’
‘Well, unofficially, it’s Nina’s gig,’ explains Keira. The boot of Nina’s car is open and she hoists a box out. ‘But now she’s pregnant . . .’
‘You should take charge,’ I point out. ‘You’re doing more work than most of them.’
‘No way!’ She laughs. ‘I’m the world’s most disorganised person. I’m not saying I don’t love helping, but I can’t be in charge of things. Ever.’
‘She sells herself short,’ Aaron says quietly. The words come out stiffly, like he’s quoting them from a movie. What follows is more natural. ‘She would do an excellent job if she allowed herself the chance.’
This is completely true. Keira is the most confident person on the planet. I wonder why she’s so reluctant to take the reins on this.
‘Just wait a second,’ I say, indicating that Keira should put the box she’s lifting down for a second. There’s a pen in my pocket, along with my notebook. I pull it out and rest it on the nearest box while I scribble. ‘Help – charity – goodwill – we need a name that is about what you’re doing. Something solid. Honest. Helpful . . . reliable . . . belief . . . trust.’
I circle this word.
Keira is staring.
I shrug and keep scribbling. ‘You’ll need a logo. Something edgy but . . . suave. You want people to think of being included. Like a circle.’ I draw a spiralling design, then cross it out. ‘Nah, that’s not right. Too . . . loopy.’ I try again. Two vertical lines, and an arc connecting them. ‘Huh.’
‘That’s good,’ Keira says slowly. ‘It says ‘reaching out’, it says ‘connecting’. It’s a . . . like a . . .’
‘Bridge.’ Aaron’s voice is quiet. ‘It’s a bridge.’
‘Oh yeah!’ I’m pretty thrilled that they like what I’ve done. ‘Yeah, that’s what it is. You can call it the Bridge Foundation. Or something.’
There’s heaps more to talk about as we finish unloading the boxes. Keira gets me thinking when she says ‘There are hundreds of people out there that need help. Not just people who got affected by the snowstorm.’
I nod. Lily is up the top of that list. We could raise money for her to go to her special school, and all the kids like her.
There should probably be schedules, I suggest, and rosters so that people know who’s working when and where. Then we need to keep track of the donations, and where they’re supposed to go, and who’s taking them.
I’m just asking Keira to write up a list of the Charity Mums, because I don’t know their names, when I realise there’s someone watching me from the doorway of the garage.
She’s ecstatic. It’s like all her dreams have come true. Not only has she solved my vocational problems, she’s scored herself another charity volunteer, plus a logo and name.
‘You can work the logo up on your laptop,’ she gushes. It’s late. Everyone else has gone home, and we’re going through the last of the boxes from Nina’s car. She folds one of Jake’s little brother’s old hoodies and puts it in a pile. ‘We’ll get letterheads done up, and we can –’
She frowns for a moment.
‘What?’ I ask.
‘Well, it’s just that this is a non-profit organisation. If we want to branch out like that, we probably need financial backing.’
I shrug. ‘Can’t you fund it?’
‘I can do a lot,’ she says. ‘But if we start pouring all our money into this, we’ll eventually run out.’
‘So we’ll campaign,’ I say. ‘Doorknocking and stuff. Rattle tin cans in the mall.’
Mum nods uncertainly.
‘Well,’ I go on, thinking as I’m talking. ‘What about something more original? There are other ways to make money. You could hold a fundraiser.’
‘A trivia night!’ Mum brightens up instantly.
I grimace. ‘Trivia nights are fine if you’re over eighteen and you can buy scotch over the bar. Otherwise . . . snore-fest. What about a concert?’
‘A concert.’ She repeats the word like it’s unfamiliar. I pull out an old pair of jeans, and something that was wrapped up inside them falls out. I bend down to grab it. ‘People love music. People will pay to see a good band. And that way, you’re not excluding anyone. Everyone can enjoy music.’ I bend down to pick it up.
‘Miky,’ she says, softly. ‘I think you might be on to something.’
My heart is thundering. I’m thinking about the concert. Who could we get to play? Most bands won’t do stuff for free, especially not big ones. We’d have to pay them a small fee at least.
I looked down at my hands. The thing that fell out is a phone. It’s an older model. It must be one of Jake’s old ones. I guess it could still be useful. If I got a charger, I could put it in with the donations. It’s an old phone, but if I needed a phone and couldn’t afford one, I’d be happy enough with one like this. I slip it into my pocket.
I practise that night. I record myself onto the laptop, and when I play it back, it sounds all right. I need to work on my pitch. And there’s one line in the final song that just doesn’t work.
‘Could, should, would –
You know, if I thought I could measure up
To anything you wanted me to be
Could, Should, Would –
I’d do it all
My guard is up
Because I’m never what you want to expect . . .
I’m just acting tough
And it’s never enough’
I pull out a notepad and write some words. Want, need, yearn . . . burn.
For some stupid reason this makes me think of Sharna. The light in her eyes when she was talking about the English essay. The possibilities she sees for making it something really great. Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I get as excited about school as she can?
I find myself looking at the mobile phone I’d found in Nina’s boxes. I put my old guitar aside and rummage through my desk drawers. I’ve got a hundred old chargers. It’s a good thing Anna isn’t allowed to throw anything out of my room. I have about three with the right connection.
Plugging it into the wall, it blinks on. It’s so flat that only the battery icon comes up. It’ll need a while to charge before it’ll turn on.
I fall asleep and dream that I’m an ant. I don’t know why I’m an ant, but I kind of like it for a while. Being small is nice.
But then I realise I’m on stage. And everyone’s looking around for me. ‘Where’s Mikhal?’ they ask.
‘I’m here,’ I say, but they can’t hear me. And because I’m an ant, I can’t reach the strings on my guitar, either. It’s not my old acoustic guitar. It’s Roger, bright green and tantalising. I keep jumping up and down but it’s out of reach . . . then, one little stick-leg brushes it and it starts to fall, and there’s this clashing, rushing sound as that little smiley face rushes towards me . . .
I jerk awake. I haven’t been asleep long – only a few minutes. The room is dark, except for the light coming from the charging mobile phone. My own phone is set on night mode, glowing softly blue beside it, showing the time – 11:04 – but I realise I didn’t dream the sound. The noise is coming from the phone.
It sounds like moving water. A gushing river or the sea. And wind . . .
It sounds almost like a song.
I pick up the phone. The sound continues, growing louder and softer, ebbing and flowing. I can catch that tune, I think. I hum softly. No words, just a melody . . .
‘Are you there?’
I jump. I drop the phone. The charger plug falls out and it bounces on the floor. The screen goes dark. The sound stops.
‘No,’ I whisper, and I hastily plug the phone back in. The screen stays dark, even when I mash all the buttons on the keypad. ‘No, no, come on . . .’
It’s crazy. I didn’t hear a voice, of course I didn’t. I didn’t hear anything. There was no call connected.
But that voice. It was soft and faint. I thought it sounded almost familiar, but I couldn’t be sure whose it was. A girl, though. Definitely a girl.
But there’s nothing. The phone is dead. I sigh and put it back on my bedside table. I was imagining the whole thing.
The next day is Sunday, and I’m planning on having an all-day sleep-in, but my phone starts ringing at quarter to eight. It’s an unknown number, a landline, not a mobile. ‘Wha?’ I mumble.
I’m still scrunching sleep out of my eyes and trying to get my brain to function, but I recognise the voice. ‘Jake –?’
‘Sorry. Sorry to call you so early. But have you seen my phone? It’s a Nokia – I think Nina chucked it in one of the boxes she left at your place for the charity drive –‘
‘Bridge,’ I interrupt him.
‘Bridge Foundation. At least, I think that’s what it’s going to be called. I haven’t worked out the details yet.’
‘. . . Mikhal!’ Jake yells. ‘My phone!’
‘There was one in the boxes. I’ve got it right here.’
I can hear him turn aside, talking to someone in the background. ‘He’s got it. Shut up, Daniel – he says he found it.’
It’s only then that I remember what happened last night. The phone is still plugged into the charger, but it doesn’t look like it’s working. The charge light isn’t even on. ‘I think it’s broken. Last night it just started making weird sounds. Like static.’
Jake is silent for a minute. ‘Like static?’
‘Well, no. Saying I heard static . . . well, that sounds less weird. It was more like waves on the ocean, or something. And . . . I thought I heard a voice. It was pretty quiet, and maybe I imagined it, maybe it was noise from the street outside or something, but . . . I don’t think so . . . Jake? Are you still there?’
He doesn’t say anything for a long moment. When he does speak, his voice was low and urgent. ‘I’ve got to call the others,’ he says. ‘Mikhal, can you come to my place? And bring the phone?’
‘Like I said, it’s busted,’ I remind him. ‘But fine. Since I’m awake now, anyway.’
He misses the sarcasm. ‘Thanks. Just get here as soon as you can.’ Before he hangs up, I just catch the words: ‘No, jeez, Daniel! Just get Keira’s number off your phone, okay? Hurry up!’
Keira? What’s she got to do with this? And what the hell is going on?
‘Why don’t you ride your bike?’ Anna says when I ask if she can take me over to Jake’s.
I roll my eyes. ‘Please. Dad’s not up yet and Mum’s still in bed. I’ll wash your car.’
She holds up her hands. ‘I’ll give you a ride if you promise you won’t touch my car.’
I hate washing cars, but still, I feel a bit offended.
‘How’s Lily?’ I ask her as we turn onto the main street.
‘She’s got a thing about dolphins at the moment. Everything’s about dolphins. I made her a dolphin costume.’ She laughs. ‘It’s a velvet cloak with some buttons sewn on the hood for eyes and a blowhole. She wants to be a . . .’ She stops for a moment, and frowns.
‘Marine Biologist?’ I guess.
She’s tight-lipped and I know exactly what she’s thinking, because I’m thinking the same thing.
She drops me at the curb. Jake is waiting for me on the front porch. I’ve only been to his house a few times, but on each occasion I’ve done a double-take at his neighbour’s yard. Mrs Henders is crazy and old. She has freaky taste. Am I imagining things or does she have more pink flamingos standing on her lawn than last time?
‘Where is it?’ Jake says.
‘Hey!’ I hold up my hand. ‘Nice to see you, too, mate.’
He walks towards me. I give him the phone, and the charger I dug up. He grabs it, hits the power button. Nothing. His face falls.
He looks up, his face grim, determined.
‘The others are waiting. Come on,’ he says.
‘Others?’ I was expecting Keira, but ‘others’ sounds like it’s going to be a crowd.
Jake leads the way. We cross the street to Phoenix Park. I didn’t grow up in Cassidy Heights like Jake and Keira did, so I’ve only been to the park a few times to play soccer. Jake knows his way around, though. He heads straight past the pond and the pagoda, which is covered in plastic to keep the weather out, and into the darkness of the pine plantation on the far side.
The trees close over us. It’s like walking into a cave. It’s cold outside, but it’s colder under here, where the sun hasn’t reached. I see a couple of rust-stained warning signs telling people to keep out, but we keep going till we reach a particular tree. There’s a ladder nailed to the trunk, leading up to a pretty decent treehouse.
Keira is standing at the bottom, and so is someone else – Aaron. Daniel, Jake’s younger brother, is leaning over the edge of the treehouse platform. They all look pretty serious.
‘What’s this?’ I laugh. ‘The Secret Seven?’
‘We don’t have a secret password yet,’ calls Daniel. ‘I wanted it to be ‘velociraptor’, but we’re the only people who come here anyway.’
Jake shakes his head with a grimace.
Keira, for once, isn’t smiling. ‘You’ve got the phone?’ she asks.
Jake holds it up. ‘It’s not working. But Mikhal . . . let’s go up.’
He motions to the ladder, and I climb it carefully. At the top is a wide platform covered by a slanted, wooden roof. It’s a bit rickety, but it doesn’t seem in danger of falling right this second. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a real treehouse before. ‘Did you build this?’
‘Yep,’ Daniel says proudly. ‘We’ve fixed it up a bit since then.’
I look around. ‘Why aren’t there any birds?’ Those magpies have been everywhere. You’d think there’d be hundreds up here, where there’s so many trees. But it’s almost dead silent, and I can hear whispers from down below. Keira, saying: ‘Are you sure this is the right thing to do?’
Then Jake. ‘He’s either going to think we’re insane and take off, or he can help us. If he actually heard . . .’
‘Is it really possible?’ Aaron’s unfamiliar quiet voice. ‘It’s been a long time . . .’
‘Just go up. I want to hear what he’s got to say.’ Jake says decisively.
The others climb up behind me and the platform shifts as they sit down in a ragged circle.
Jake puts the phone in the centre, and suddenly everyone’s eyes are focused on it, staring like it’s the Holy Grail or something.
‘Mikhal,’ Jake says. ‘We’ve got something to tell you.’
‘I did hear a voice, didn’t I?’ I pump a fist in the air. ‘I knew it.’
‘If you did, it’s a good thing,’ Jake says. ‘I really, really hope you did.’
‘Why? Who was it? It sounded like a girl.’
Keira takes over. ‘It was Cari. Rebecca. You remember Rebecca?’
Yeah, I remember Rebecca, the exchange student Jake had staying with him for a few days a couple of weeks ago. I only met her once, when she came with us to the movies and the mall one night. She had a thing with Jake. They’d made a pretty good couple, I thought. She was quiet and private, like him. But there was something . . . about her . . . I can’t quite put words to it.
I look at Aaron, and I realise that he looks a little bit like she did, or like she would, if she had a bit more colour to her. Not quite as pale and ethereal, but almost. ‘Are you her brother?’ I ask. ‘Cousin?’
‘Not exactly,’ Aaron says. ‘But she’s very important to us all.’
No one really seems to know what to say next. It’s Daniel who breaks the silence.
‘Aaron’s not his real name. He’s from another world, and so is Cari. Rebecca.’
‘Another world.’ I repeat this, frowning. Is this just some huge joke they’re playing on me? I try to play along. ‘You mean, like, aliens?’
‘More like . . . another dimension. A world that exists beside ours. It’s connected in places.’
‘By bridges,’ Keira says.
‘Bridges.’ Yeah, Mikhal. Keep repeating everything. Maybe hearing it in your own voice will make it make sense. ‘Bridges?’
‘They’re unstable. They shift and move from one place to another.’ Keira continues. ‘I crossed one.’
She’s not laughing. She should be laughing, shouldn’t she? People don’t talk about stuff like this without laughing. Not unless they’re in a movie, or a book, or crazy in the friggin’ head . . .
‘I went to Shar. It’s this fantastic city. It’s Cari’s – Rebecca’s home. It’s Archon’s home, too, though he’s also part human.’
I stare at her.
‘Okay,’ she says, taking a deep breath. She pulls something out of her pocket. It’s a clear crystal. In the spots of light filtering through the pine needles overhead, it glints a hundred different colours. ‘I’m going to touch you, Mikhal. Okay?’
She doesn’t answer, just reaches over and rests her fingers on my knee.
A shock runs through me. I can see –
I can see a bridge. It leads up into the sky, and as I crane my neck I see it stretches up to a glittering city. It’s beautiful, that city. The towering spires and arching bridges are delicate, like lace. Like they shouldn’t be able to hold themselves up, they’re so fragile . . .
Colours surround people. The colours drift around their bodies, red, gold, violet . . . the colours mean something. They pulsate, like feelings, and sometimes they change from one colour to another . . .
And then I’m there, walking through one of the streets, people on either side of me. They’re tall and sinewy, and they don’t look too friendly. Rashae. The name comes to me as if I’ve known it for a while. Guardian Rashae – and I’m afraid of her, and angry at her, and . . .
She hates me. She hates us. I can feel how much she despises humans, how she thinks we’re vile, disgusting, repulsive creatures.
And my ankle. My ankle should hurt, but I can walk on it without feeling pain and it’s amazing . . .
And then I’m lying on a bed. There’s an old man beside me. He is talking in a gravelly voice . . .
Faces, many of those cold, pale faces bending over me . . . the crystal, the same one in Keira’s hand right now, is in the hands of one of them . . .
A telescope. A bronze telescope, heavy in my hands. Not just the actual weight of it. It means something, this telescope. People are afraid of it. The Guardians have it, and they’re going to use it – we’re in danger – the ice, the snowstorm, this can happen, and worse . . . they hate us, humans, they’re so scared of us, and what we can do. If they wipe us out, they’ll be safe . . .
A rushing river of light. The vinarhi . . . Rebecca. A mobile phone clutched in her outstretched hands as she tries to reach my hands, her face alive with panic and fear. . . and the crystal shard, in my hands (Keira’s hands) slashing downwards, cutting a golden thread, and Rebecca is gone and Keira is here and
I am here, back in myself, breathing heavily.
‘Sorry,’ Keira says. I can’t see her because my vision is grey and blurred. ‘It’s always a bit much to take in the first time. I tried to be gentle, but . . . just breathe slowly. Do you think I shared too much at once?’
This last bit isn’t aimed at me, obviously, because I’m pressing my head to my knees and trying not to throw up. Aaron answers. ‘He needed to know. I’ve seen enough of your world now to know how hard it is for your people to believe. You made it easier for him.’
Easier. Well, yeah, it is that. I can’t exactly not believe them now I’ve had Keira’s memories downloaded directly into my brain.
Archon. Aaron. Cari – Rebecca. Of course they’re from another world. Neither of them belongs here. And Keira’s miraculous recovery – it was impossible in our world. But not in this other one.
‘Okay,’ I say, gulping and raising my head. Just a little, because everything seems to hurt right now. ‘Okay, so there’s a city in the sky. And there are Bridges to that city. And there are places in between. And Rebecca – Cari – is still trapped there. And . . . and Jake’s phone can connect with her.’
‘She has my phone, actually,’ Keira says. ‘The connection was open when we came through. But when I cut the thread, we lost all contact with her. Jake’s been trying to get it back for ages, but the phone is useless. It won’t even make normal calls.’
‘I had to buy a new phone. I think that’s why Nina thought I meant to chuck my old one out, and she put it in that box to donate.’ Jake says. ‘But somehow you’ve managed to make it work. What were you doing just before the phone turned on?’
‘Sleeping!’ I say. It’s not like I was doing anything special like playing with a magic crystal. ‘I was sleeping and having some stupid dream. Maybe that’s it.’ But no, that’s not all. ‘I’d just finished . . . I was playing . . . and singing.’
Oh, man. I never, never admit to anyone what I do with my music. My face burns.
‘Um – you can’t tell anyone,’ I say.
They’re all looking at me, and I’m sure I can tell what they’re thinking. Mikhal? He can’t sing. I bet they’re laughing on the inside.
‘Wait a minute. I’m sitting with a bunch of people who think there’s a glowing city in the sky!’ I burst out, glaring at each of them, daring them to say what they’re thinking to my face. ‘And one of them thinks he’s come from another world.’
‘I don’t just think it,’ Aaron says. ‘I was born there. But I’m half-human, because my father crossed over and met my mother in Shar. I’m living with Mrs Henders while I work out how to return.’
‘That’s not the point – or maybe it is. It’s all crazy, the whole thing! And you’re seriously judging me?’
‘Mikhal, we didn’t say anything!’ Keira butts in. ‘I just didn’t know you were into music.’
‘I’m not. I mean, I just muck around sometimes. I’m not, like, good, or anything.’
‘Could that be it, though? You singing?’ Jake looks at Aaron, or Archon. ‘Could that make the connection?’
‘I don’t know, exactly,’ he replies thoughtfully. ‘We don’t –’
‘You don’t really have music in Shar, do you?’ Keira says. ‘I never heard any.’
‘We don’t play it openly, like you do in your world. It’s closely-monitored by the Guardians. And it certainly doesn’t have the same sounds. The same . . . lack of restraint.’
‘Yes! Music is all about resonouncing!’ Daniel says, making up his own words as his voice rises with excitement. ‘Isn’t that what your crystal does, Keira?’
‘Resonances,’ Keira corrects him. ‘And yeah . . . the crystals in Shar respond to resonances. I think people’s auras do, too, since the crystals can be trained to respond to particular people. I mean, yeah, there definitely could be a link.’
‘The music teacher at school, Mr Jackson,’ I say slowly, ‘says that music makes connections between things. I always thought that was a cool idea, and it kind of makes sense. Music can make you feel something you didn’t even know you could feel, or remember things you thought you’d forgotten. You can touch people with music. You know? That’s how it is for me, anyway.’
I’m kind of embarrassed saying this. Even though I think it’s true, it sounds kind of fruity.
‘That sounds like a very . . . Sharian thing to say,’ Keira says, glancing at Aaron. ‘They’re all about things affecting other things.’
Jake nods, too, like he knows what I’m talking about. ‘It kind of makes sense. But if the music did that, somehow made the connection, then we have to try it again. It might be our only way to save Cari.’
Save Cari. Of course. She’s the Princess in the tower. And the whole bunch of evil witches are the Guardians.
‘Is this for real?’ I ask them.
No one answers that.
Ruth Fox is the author of The Bridges Trilogy and the award-winning Monster-boy: Lair of the Grelgoroth.
She loves to paint, cook and play computer games (very badly). She has a Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing. So far she has worked at several far less meaningful or interesting jobs – but writing is her life. She loves science fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, young adult, adult, literature, old books, new books, and everything in between.
She currently lives with her husband and three very curious and adventurous sons (who also love books) in Ballarat, Victoria.
For more information visit Ruth's: Facebook or author pages.
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