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       The Roar, p.21

           Emma Clayton
 

  ‘Oh,’ said Mika, thinking what a bad liar she was.

  ‘That wound would have taken weeks to heal a couple of centuries ago,’ she continued. ‘That’s if you hadn’t bled to death to start with. And then you might have got gangrene and had it chopped off.’

  She grinned.

  ‘That’s a nice thought,’ said Mika.

  ‘You were lucky. The bolt clipped the bone but didn’t break it. You lost a lot of blood, but luckily your father was on hand. You’ve got half a litre of his. Remember to be a good boy and say, “thank you”.’

  ‘Where is he?’ Mika asked.

  ‘In the waiting room, with your mother.’

  ‘Can I see them?’

  ‘Of course, I’ll tell them you’re awake.’

  Asha’s eyes were red and her face was blotchy from crying. David looked pale and angry.

  ‘Oh Mika!’ Asha cried, grabbing his hand. ‘Tell me exactly what happened!’

  ‘A girl shot me by mistake,’ he replied. ‘It was an accident, Mum. I’m fine.’

  ‘But what were you doing? I thought this was supposed to be a game!’

  ‘We were just shooting targets,’ Mika said flippantly. ‘We’ve been training for days. It was just a freak accident.’

  ‘Well there won’t be any more “freak accidents”,’ David said angrily. ‘Because we’re taking you home!’

  The nurse stepped forward and said the doctor wanted to talk to them, and they left reluctantly. Mika could see them through a window, but couldn’t hear what they were saying. At first the conversation looked heated and his parents looked angry, but by the end of it, they were nodding with resigned expressions on their faces.

  ‘We can’t take you yet,’ David said, when they’d come back to his bedside. ‘But as soon as you’ve finished your treatment tomorrow night, this is over. Even if you have got through to the final round, you’re not competing any more, it’s not safe.’

  Mika left the hospital unit in a hover chair. His leg didn’t hurt at all because it was completely healed – he’d checked when he was in the toilets, and there wasn’t even a scar to show where the bolt had ripped into his leg, but he made a show of wincing now and then to corroborate the lie his parents had been told. All he could do was pray that when they found out about the hover car they would change their minds.

  He zipped along in the chair and they found an ice cream hut and asked for strawberry cones. Mika licked his once and the ice cream fell off the top and landed on the sandy path with a splat.

  ‘Frag,’ he said.

  Asha laughed. ‘That happened when you were little; it was so tragic you cried your eyes out!’

  She walked back to the ice cream hut and got him another one, and he watched her from his hover chair feeling guilty. When they reached the beach Audrey ran across the sand to meet them.

  ‘Cool chair!’ she said. ‘Let me see your leg!’

  Mika pulled up his shorts so she could see the bandage and her eyes widened with morbid curiosity.

  His parents walked ahead to talk to Tasha and Una by the huts.

  ‘How many sharks did you kill?’ Audrey whispered.

  ‘Two,’ he said, grinning.

  ‘And me,’ she said, with her eyes shining.

  They shared the details of their games in hurried whispers as they moved towards the hut, then Audrey fell silent and Mika realized she’d had the same kind of problems with her mother and aunt, and that it was not a good idea to talk about flesh-ripping borg sharks, harpoon guns and nearly bleeding to death in their company.

  On the steps of their hut, David found a basket left by the Youth Development Foundation. On the handle was a card. The message said, ‘The Youth Development Foundation would like to apologize for the inconvenience caused by your son’s accident. We hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday.’ There were plastic flowers and perfume for Asha, a Youth Development Foundation baseball cap and pen for David, and another pen for Mika.

  ‘Fantastic,’ Mika said sarcastically, clicking the pen so the nib shot in and out.

  ‘Yuck,’ Asha said, sniffing her perfume with her nose screwed up.

  29

  JUST TRY AND STOP ME

  The Welcome Hut looked beautiful for the prize-giving dinner; hundreds of orange lanterns had been strung through the rafters, the tables were decorated with garlands of plastic flowers and when the food arrived, it looked so lovely on the plate, Asha took a photograph so she could remember it when she got home.

  Everyone was dressed in their best clothes and Mika thought his mother looked amazing; her skin glowed in the candlelight and the beads on her new red sari glittered like rubies. But there was a hard edge to her smile and she looked impatiently towards the door now and then as if she was keen to leave as soon as possible. His father hardly touched his food and didn’t speak a word for the whole meal and Mika realized the hover car was going to have a hard job changing their minds.

  The waiters cleared the desserts from the tables and the Hat Man took to the stage.

  ‘Hello, everyone!’ he shouted, throwing his arms in the air. ‘So this is it! The moment of truth! In a few minutes you will know if you are going home with a top-of-the-range, Jaguar hover car!’

  The wooden doors swung open to reveal the hover car again, and this time it had a teddy bear sitting in the pilot seat.

  ‘Just imagine driving that, dads!’ the Hat Man said.

  ‘Dads?’ Una whispered irritably. ‘What does he think I’d do with one? Paint my nails in it?’

  ‘Twelve competitors will win a hover car and go through to compete in the final round! But on behalf of the Youth Development Foundation, I would like to say well done to everyone for getting this far! You have all been fantastic competitors and every loser will be getting one of these amazing consolation prizes!’ He held up a box and everyone tried to see inside it. ‘A luxury, four-piece cutlery set! Engraved with the Youth Development Foundation logo! We hope you treasure this gift as a memento of your wonderful time here!’

  ‘A cutlery set?’ David repeated, angrily. ‘I think Mika deserves more than that!’

  ‘I don’t know,’ Asha said, sarcastically. ‘We could do with some new cutlery.’

  Mika would rather have had a metre of stinking floodwater in their apartment than a Youth Development Foundation cutlery set, but he kept his thoughts to himself.

  The Hat Man called the losers to the stage and one by one they collected their cutlery set and left with tears in their eyes.

  ‘This is painful,’ said Una, ‘Do we have to watch eighty-eight kids go through this?’

  ‘Looks like it,’ Asha replied. ‘Surely they could have given them the cutlery set later and not made them walk to the stage in front of everyone.’

  ‘They’re so big, you forget how young they are,’ Tasha mused, gazing at Audrey with misty eyes.

  It was a strange experience for Mika watching it all knowing he had won. As the tables emptied around them Audrey gripped his fingers tighter and tighter until he had to prize them off and tell her she was hurting him.

  ‘Sorry,’ she said.

  Eighty-three. Eighty-four ran out of the hut without collecting his cutlery set. Audrey and Leo were still there but so was Ruben. Please let eighty-five be Ruben. No. Please let eighty-six be Ruben. No. Eighty-seven. No.

  The last losing name was called.

  ‘Mark Thomas!’

  Poor Mark Thomas; he walked sadly to the stage as the winners began celebrating. Some climbed on the tables and danced, some ran across the hut and threw themselves on the bonnet of the hover car, and before Mark Thomas had left the stage with his Youth Development Foundation cutlery set, a team of waiters were pushing an ice sculpture of a dolphin into the centre of the room and all around the bottom, sitting in glittering diamonds of ice, were bottles of champagne with Jaguar key cards tied to them.

  But amidst the joy, three people remained in their seats: Mika, stuck in his hover chair, and his paren
ts.

  ‘You did it,’ David said quietly, watching one of the dads throw the teddy out of the hover car and climb into the pilot’s seat.

  ‘So?’ Asha said, angrily. ‘What price did he pay? I don’t care about the hover car; this changes nothing. I mean it, David, he is not going to compete in the final round.’

  One by one the winners’ names were called by the Hat Man and they walked up to the ice sculpture to collect the bottle of champagne and the key to their hover car, which would be delivered later to their homes. Some faltered for a moment, their faces bathed in icy light while they decided which bottle to choose, which was dumb, because they were all the same. Ruben grabbed his and shook it as if he was a racing driver. Audrey hugged hers to her chest and bounced back to their table like Tigger. Leo took his quickly and slipped away to the corner of the room. Mika was so overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings he couldn’t remember how he got there in the hover chair, let alone how he picked up the bottle. His mother’s last words were ringing in his head: ‘He is not going to compete in the last round.’

  Well you just try and stop me, he thought.

  30

  BACK TO REALITY

  After the prize-giving dinner, the holiday was over for everyone else and the competitors and their families had to return to the real world of mould, work and school. Every few seconds, the hole in the dome opened and a pod shot out carrying a family away, but Mika and his parents couldn’t leave with the others, because he had to go back to the hospital unit so the doctors could pretend to finish healing his leg.

  They walked there in silence, with David and Asha looking as if they had hours to live. The healing chamber hummed over his leg. Asha drummed her palm tree painted fingernails on the arm of the chair and David paced around the bed huffing impatiently until they left. Asha had already packed their suitcases, so they went straight from the hospital unit to the pod waiting to take them home. The hole in the top of the dome opened to let them out and the pod flew like a bee into a thunderstorm.

  ‘Jeez Chrise!’ David cursed, grabbing hold of Asha so she didn’t fall off the seat as the pod lurched sideways. Mika looked out of the window and before the view was completely obscured by rain he saw black waves that could have swallowed Barford North in one gulp. Bolts of lightning flashed through the clouds and stabbed the monstrous sea like spears.

  ‘Back to reality,’ David said grimly as thunder shook the pod.

  Barford North looked more horrible than ever when they landed on the roof of their tower. The plague siren on the tank meat factory was hit by a bolt of lightning that lit up the town like a camera flash and it looked dreary, depressed and unwelcoming.

  ‘Quick!’ David shouted, his words snatched by the wind as he dragged their cases out of the pod. They hauled them down the stinking concrete stairs trying not to breathe through their noses. It felt bitterly cold in the tower after a week in the holiday complex, and outside the door to their apartment water dripped on their heads while Asha looked for the key. Her handbag was full of apples, bananas and soy cheese she’d brought home for the neighbours. She dumped it all in Mika’s hands so she could see what she was doing.

  ‘The key must be in here somewhere!’ she said, up to her elbows in her bag. ‘I swear this bag’s got a magical trap door in it for anything important.’

  The fold-down felt as cold and gloomy as the rest of the building when they walked in and it smelled of mildew because the air conditioning had been turned off for a week. There was a new patch of black mould around the window frame where rain-water had seeped in. David felt it and sighed.

  ‘It’ll seem better when we’ve unpacked and put the cases away,’ Asha said, trying to sound cheerful. She turned on the lights and the air conditioning and brushed the frayed arm of the sofa as if that would make it look better. The air con unit started making a noise as if it was trying to eat chopsticks, then it stopped and the apartment filled with a burning smell.

  ‘Pooh!’ Asha said. ‘What’s wrong with this stupid thing? I despair with this apartment, I really do. As soon as we fix one thing, something else goes wrong.’

  ‘Just imagine how different it would be if we lived in the Golden Turrets . . .’ Mika said, seizing the opportunity to make them change their minds.

  ‘No,’ Asha snapped, bashing the control panel on the air con unit. ‘I will not imagine living in the Golden Turrets. What sort of people organize games for children that involve borg sharks and harpoon guns?’

  ‘But it was just an accident,’ Mika insisted. ‘Please let me try to win the apartment. We’d never have to worry about money again, there’d be no rent to pay, just bills. You wouldn’t have to wear the cowgirl outfit. Please, Mum.’

  ‘Just an accident?’ Asha snapped. ‘Your blood was spattered on the ceiling! What do you think that was like to see?’

  The front fell off the air con unit and smoke began to pour out of it.

  ‘It must have been awful,’ Mika said, reasonably. ‘But I’m fine now.’

  He did a little jig to show how perfectly fixed his leg was. David opened the window to get rid of the smoke and a freezing cold, rainy wind blustered into the apartment.

  ‘This place is our home,’ Asha continued, with her teeth chattering. ‘And that’s that.’

  ‘Dad, please!’ Mika said.

  ‘No,’ David replied, putting his dressing gown on over his coat. ‘And don’t ask again, the subject is closed.’

  David turned his back on Mika and filled the kettle at the sink and Asha pretended to busy herself with the cases. Mika felt so angry and frustrated he wanted to yell at them. He knew they were right to want to stop him competing, he agreed with them completely; he’d almost got killed when it was supposed to be a game, but how else was he going to find Ellie? He had got so far, he couldn’t stop now, he just couldn’t.

  But, he remembered, anger would do nothing for him in a situation like this. The angrier he was, the angrier they all were; it always achieved exactly the opposite result to the one he wanted. He thought for a moment. There had to be something he could do. There was. It was cruel and definitely a last resort, but the moment he thought of it, he knew it would work. He leaned against the wall, thought of Ellie and silent tears began to run down his face. The instant his parents noticed, the expressions on their faces softened and their eyes filled with pain. He felt mean making them upset but he knew he had no choice and could only hope that whatever price they paid now, they would consider it worthwhile in the end. He cried desperately and it wasn’t hard. All he had to do was imagine never seeing Ellie again and despair overwhelmed him. He told them how much he missed her and that the game helped him cope with her death and by the time they went to bed, they had said he could compete, but only if he absolutely promised not to get involved in any dangerous games. He promised and crossed his heart, then lay in Ellie’s bed feeling terrified.

  31

  THAT BOY WILL BE SCARED OF ME

  In the early hours of the morning, after Mika and his parents had gone to bed, Mal Gorman sat at the desk in his office on the Queen of the North, staring at the screen. He didn’t know what time it was, only that supper had passed long ago and his butler, Ralph, had gone to bed. The office was almost dark, lit only by the clean light of planet Earth, glowing through the window and the much dimmer light cast from the screen that covered his desktop.

  The man had been right about Mika’s memory recording; it was so dark, Gorman had to watch it in darkness to see anything and most of it made no sense whatsoever. All he could make out were a few shapes moving around and static, then the odd birthday cake or smiling face, just childhood stuff, so he’d spent a boring evening frowning at it, waiting for something interesting to happen. Then, right at the end, he found what he had been waiting for, a memory so vivid, Mika hadn’t been able to suppress it, and just as it shocked and frightened the boy, so it shocked and frightened Gorman. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing and he watched it over and ov
er again for hours as if that would make it better. Lurking in the shadows of a place where dark walls seemed to press in all around was a man in a black suit with a television for a head. It was an inbetween moment, a moment in which nothing much happened and yet it was horrible. The man’s face flickered in black and white on the curved glass screen and his eyes gazed blankly out of it as if he was feeling nothing, as if he had no soul. He just stood there in the darkness crushing a bird in his hand that was struggling feebly to get away. But it wasn’t the bird’s plight that scared Gorman, or the darkness or the blank-eyed face on the flickering screen, it was the fact that he was that man. Somehow, a refugee child from Barford North had a memory of him in his head, looking like a freak, a monster.

  He woke up his butler and asked for hot chocolate. Ralph arrived looking sleepy in his dressing gown with his grey hair fluffy on top.

  ‘Good evening, sir,’ Ralph said politely, placing a small tray on the desk. ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’

  ‘Yes,’ Gorman grunted. ‘Watch this.’ Gorman pushed the tray aside and played Mika’s memory again so Ralph could watch it.

  ‘Is that me?’ Gorman asked when it had finished.

  ‘It does look quite like you, sir,’ Ralph replied, nervously.

  ‘But that’s impossible!’ Gorman shouted, immediately flaring up. ‘How could I be in that boy’s mind? He’s never met me! He’s just some scruffy urchin with holes in his sneakers! How dare he think such a thing? How dare he have me in his head looking like that?’

  Gorman tried to lift the cup of chocolate to his lips but his hand was trembling so much he had to return it to the saucer.

  ‘Then it must be somebody who looks like you, sir,’ Ralph said, carefully. ‘How can it be you if you’ve never met the boy? In fact, now I look at it again, the nose looks altogether the wrong shape.’

  ‘Really?’ Gorman asked, hopefully. ‘You think so?’

 
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