The Roar, p.28Emma Clayton
‘You must be from the competition,’ one said, eyeing Mika’s filthy sneakers and jeans.
‘Yes,’ Mika replied, dropping his bag with its broken strap on the step in front of them. They looked down their noses while he searched for the gold key card, but when they saw it glinting amongst his socks, they stepped aside to let him in.
Just inside the foyer there was an ornate marble fountain with nymphs sitting around it bathing their feet and combing their hair. Mika walked up to the edge and trailed his fingers in the cool clear water, feeling astonished by its extravagance. In their old foyer the walls were covered in slime and the wind whistled through in a ghostly lament as if people had frozen to death in its corners.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see two boys and a girl. They were the same age as him and yet they looked as if they came from another world. A perfect world where people were warm and ate real food, but their lights were dark, revealing their hostile thoughts, and the girl looked at Mika as if his ragged clothes made her feel sick.
He looked at the floor, remembering The Shadows, but the rich kids ignored the sound and continued to stare at him.
‘Who are you?’ the girl asked, haughtily. ‘How did you get in?’
‘I live here,’ Mika replied.
‘No you don’t,’ one of the boys scoffed. ‘People like you don’t live here. You must have come in with the cleaners.’
‘And you’re touching our water,’ the girl said, ‘Don’t. You’ll make it dirty.’
Mika almost retaliated. His anger surged up with the crackle of the roar and he wanted to punish them for their prejudice and wipe the haughty sneers from their faces. How easy it would be to humiliate them with the powers he now knew he had. Then he remembered his promise to Mal Gorman and knew this was not the time to be showing off to arrogant strangers, however horrible they were. He turned from them and picked up his bag and walked towards the lift. He heard the boys laugh and say something as the door closed but he clenched his teeth and blocked it out.
The lift began to rise and he slumped against the wall, dreading the moment when he saw his parents again. It wasn’t going to be easy to keep that part of his promise to Mal Gorman. How could he get away with not telling them anything? The bruises on his neck and the cut on his hand were gone but he felt different. Since he’d left home on Friday, he’d been strangled by Ruben, almost killed him by looking at him, then saved his life, been lowered into a pit full of strange borg dogs, met the Telly Heads, won the competition and found, but not seen, his supposedly dead twin sister. He felt as if he’d been playing all the parts in a very strange soap opera and now he had to face his parents and say nothing. And then, at half past eight, while they were supposed to be enjoying a party, they would get a message from Mal Gorman and find out he had to go back to Cape Wrath in the morning. They were going to be mad as hell and very upset. They would ask lots of questions he wouldn’t be able to answer. It was going to be awful.
But worth it.
* * *
He would never forget the vision that met his eyes as the door to their new apartment opened; his mother stood barefoot on a luxurious carpet in her blue celebration sari and behind her, the Golden Turrets glowed through their very own wall of glass.
‘Mika!’ She ran towards him and threw her arms around his neck. He breathed into her hair and felt a spasm in his chest as he overflowed with love for her. Then she pushed him away so she could look at him.
‘You seem different,’ she said, her eyes scrutinizing his face with maternal sharpness.
‘I’ve only been gone two days, Mum,’ he said. ‘Are you going to tell me I’ve grown again?’
‘Have you been hurt?’ she asked, narrowing her eyes.
‘No,’ he replied, nervously. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘You just seem . . . different. I’m so glad you’re home.’
‘So am I,’ he said.
‘I just said “home”, didn’t I?’ she said, sounding confused. ‘I can’t believe it! Look at the view!’
She gestured towards the glass wall. There was a door to one side that led out onto the balcony and Mika saw his father leaning on the railing with a glass of wine in his hand. He walked out and stood beside him and they gazed down into the park. It was laid out in a pattern of gold paths and pools, their fountains rising and falling in elegant plumes.
‘I can’t believe you won us a home here playing a game,’ David said, shaking his head. He looked at Mika and smiled. ‘I’m so proud of you.’
‘Thanks,’ Mika replied.
‘Has your mother shown you around yet?’ David asked.
‘Not yet,’ Mika said.
‘She will,’ he went on, smiling.
‘Does she like it then?’ Mika asked, tentatively. ‘Here?’
‘Well, it was a bit of a shock when they turned up three hours ago with packing cases and said we were moving. But I have to admit the place is growing on me and it’s only twenty minutes on the train to Barford North for work and friends. But that noise . . .’ he paused and they listened to it:
‘I don’t think I’ll get used to that. It makes me feel guilty. I don’t think I’d want to stay here if the government don’t do anything to help them down there. I suppose we could sell the apartment if we decide we don’t like it. You know, several government ministers live above us in this turret.’
‘Do they?’ Mika asked, looking up.
‘Yeah,’ David continued. ‘Right at the top, in the dome. The apartments up there are even bigger than this.’
‘Mika!’ Asha called. ‘Come and look at the kitchen!’
David grinned and sipped his wine. ‘I’ll leave you to it,’ he said, ‘There’s only so much I can say about cupboard doors and spice racks.’
The main living area led onto an open-plan kitchen with highly-polished pretend wood cupboards. Mika let her show him everything, the acres of cupboard space, the fancy fridge full of champagne and party food, the polished stone worktops and the lovely shiny taps.
‘Look at the air conditioning!’ she enthused, showing him the control panel. ‘We can choose from three different smells: summer meadow, sea breeze or bluebell wood.’
There were two bedrooms and their doors opened on to the living area from the left and right and each had its own bathroom and glass wall overlooking the city. Mika’s room was as big as their whole apartment in Barford North and the walls were panelled with smooth pretend wood. In his bathroom he had gold taps and a warm air cubicle to dry in. There were small soft lights embedded in the walls and on the floor, a thick cream carpet.
‘Where’s the furniture?’ Mika asked, looking around.
‘There isn’t any,’ Asha replied. ‘Not even a television. All we’ve got is our old sofa.’
‘Never mind,’ Mika said. ‘I don’t mind sleeping on the floor. The carpet is soft.’
‘There are wardrobes,’ Asha said. ‘So there’s no excuse to chuck your clothes everywhere. We’ve got under-floor heating and room service – just like in a hotel and a new vacuumbot and a swimming pool and gym and a restaurant, although we probably can’t afford it . . . look in this cupboard! It’s a dry laundry unit! You hang your dirty clothes in here and fifteen minutes later they’re clean! Why don’t you clean what you’re wearing now before everyone arrives for the party?’
She sighed and sank to the floor.
‘What’s wrong?’ Mika asked.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘It’s just a bit overwhelming. We got home from shopping this afternoon and I was making a cup of tea and wondering whether we’d eaten all the Fab mash when there was a knock on the door. Two hours later we were here. I suppose I’m a bit shocked. It’s so . . .’
‘Good,’ Mika finished for her, sitting down and taking his sneakers off. ‘Like another holiday, but for ever.’
He wiggled his toes in the plush pile of the carpet.
‘Those are definitely going in the laundry unit,’ Asha said, eyeing his sneakers and socks with disgust. ‘Pooh.’
He could feel her eyes on him again, searching.
‘What’s wrong, Mika?’ she asked. ‘What happened while you were away?’
‘I won the competition,’ Mika replied, carefully avoiding eye contact. ‘There’s nothing wrong.’
* * *
Asha went to the kitchen to prepare food for the party. Mika shoved his clothes and sneakers in the laundry unit, dimmed the lights and sat cross-legged on the carpet in front of the glass wall. The air roads were busy with early evening traffic and in the street surrounding the park, the pedestrians looked like ants running in and out of golden holes. There was a police pod hovering opposite and he sensed them watching him. Only a few weeks before he’d seen the police outside his window and felt terrified, but now they didn’t bother him at all. He’d found Ellie and all he had to do was get through one night without leaving the apartment or letting his parents find out what he could do and he would be with her again. How he wished he could tell them.
That would make the party go with a bang, he thought.
Little did he realise, this party was going to go with a lot of bangs and his promise to Mal Gorman was not going to be as easy to keep as he thought.
Mika grabbed his clothes from the laundry unit, warm and clean and smelling of spring, and dressed quickly, ready for the party. He found his mother in the new kitchen with two maids sent by the YDF. Mika smiled, watching her follow them around, trying to help them while they helped her.
‘What can I do?’ she asked, wringing her hands and looking lost while they laid out gold trays of party snacks and white china and cutlery. ‘Perhaps I should make tea. Would either of you like a cup of tea before everyone arrives and a little rest, or coffee if you prefer . . . a glass of wine?’
‘No thank you, Mrs Smith,’ they replied, primly.
‘Why don’t you have a glass of wine, Asha?’ David suggested. ‘Don’t worry about the food, have a glass of wine and relax until everyone arrives.’
‘I suppose I could,’ she replied, pensively. ‘Isn’t this lovely?’
‘You are lovely,’ David said, kissing her, and they embraced with the Golden Turrets glowing behind them.
If only this was it, Mika thought, the fairy tale ends with a kiss in the fairy palace and everyone lives happily ever after.
He wondered how Ellie was feeling at that moment and suddenly the night seemed torturously long. He checked the time, it was only half past six; two hours before Mal Gorman’s message would arrive and twelve hours before he was due to return to Cape Wrath. He tried to relax, after all there was nothing he could do but wait until morning. What could possibly go wrong?
The guests began to arrive and soon the apartment was full of people laughing and making friends. Mika liked them all, particularly Leo’s father, who was a huge man with dreadlocks as thick as rope and a deep belly laugh. Iman’s little sister was the cutest baby he’d ever seen, and she ran around the adults’ legs with handfuls of food in her party dress. Everyone seemed happy to celebrate their new homes, but Mika and the children who’d won them gathered on the balcony where they could be alone. The French girl, Colette, sat on the floor hugging her knees and the rest leaned on the balcony and gazed at the Golden Turrets, their healed wounds like invisible lies on their skin.
Audrey’s green eyes were bright with fear. ‘I don’t understand why Mal Gorman wants to take us back again,’ she whispered. ‘This was supposed to be a game!’
‘It hasn’t felt like a game for a while to me,’ Santos said, polishing his glasses on his T-shirt. ‘I think being asked to sign the Official Secrets Act was a big clue.’
‘I’m scared about the promise we made,’ Audrey said. ‘What if something happens and we can’t keep it? Our families will be dumped in The Shadows! They might die!’
‘We will keep it,’ Mika said quickly. ‘Whatever our parents ask us, we’ll say nothing and the second part is easy – all we’ve got to do is stay in the apartment.’
‘There are five police pods watching us now,’ Leo said. ‘Look at them. They’re all around the park.’
‘Gorman doesn’t trust us,’ Audrey whispered. ‘Perhaps he thinks we’ll try to run away so we don’t have to go back tomorrow.’
‘And willingly make our parents homeless?’ Leo scoffed. ‘How could he think we’d do that?’
‘Because he’s judging us by his own standards,’ Santos said.
‘I’m scared,’ Iman whispered. ‘I don’t want the apartment or the hover car. I hate it here with that booming noise. I just want to go home and be normal. I want to see my friends. Now they’ve taken our companions, we can’t even tell them we’ve moved. What are they going to do to us? I wish I’d never entered this competition.’
‘We wouldn’t be safe anyway,’ Leo said. ‘Mal Gorman was looking for us. The competition was about finding us.’
‘Why?’ Audrey said, desperately. ‘So we can move toy cars with our eyes? Why do we have to go back tomorrow? I don’t understand.’
‘I think we can do more,’ Mika said, darkly. ‘And Gorman knows.’
‘Like what?’ Audrey asked, fearfully. ‘It must be something bad if those government skeletons are interested in it.’
‘I think we can hurt people,’ Mika whispered. ‘I did it by accident to Ruben while he was trying to strangle me. I made him scream just by looking at him.’
‘I set fire to my bed,’ Iman said, her eyes wide. ‘After we got back from holiday I was trying to turn the pages of my book by looking at them and they burst into flames!’
‘Ruben lifted his own body,’ Santos reminded them. ‘If he can do that maybe we can too.’
He bit his lip and screwed up his eyes.
‘Not now, you perp!’ Leo said. ‘The last thing we need is our parents seeing that! Look. Mika’s mother’s watching us.’
They turned to see Asha eyeing them suspiciously through the glass wall.
‘We need to look normal,’ Mika whispered, anxiously.
‘How?’ Santos asked.
‘I dunno, smile a bit, look as if we’re having fun and don’t float or set fire to anything.’
HARVESTED FOR WAR
‘What time is it?’ Mal Gorman asked.
‘Twenty-seven minutes past eight, sir,’ Ralph replied. The butler was on his knees in front of the dressing-room fire, toasting a crumpet for Gorman’s supper, and his master sat in the gold chair with a blanket around his shoulders.
‘Only three minutes now,’ Gorman said quietly, staring at the fire. ‘Before the poor find out what we’re doing to their children and I become the most hated person on the planet.’
‘Surely they won’t hate you, sir,’ Ralph said. ‘You’re only doing your job.’
‘I know,’ Gorman replied. ‘But I don’t think they’re going to see it that way.’
‘But aren’t you giving them all a thousand credits?’ Ralph asked.
‘Yes,’ Gorman replied, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders.
‘Well that’s very generous, sir,’ Ralph said, diligently buttering a crumpet. ‘I’m sure they’ll be grateful for that. They’ll be able to buy some food.’
‘They ought to be grateful,’ Gorman said. ‘But for some reason I’ve found poor people would rather starve to death than lose their children, so I’m sure there’ll be a few complaints.’
‘But the police will deal with those, won’t they, sir?’ Ralph said, in his most reassuring tone.
‘Yes,’ Gorman replied.
He thought about the prison complex off the north coast of Ireland and hoped it was big enough.
They can always build another one, he thought. And anyway, parents are not my responsibility any more, I have what I want.
‘Honey,’ Gorman replied. ‘And two crumpets. Then send for Ellie, I suppose I ought to tell her what’s happening to her brother.’ He shivered suddenly and leaned closer to the fire.
‘Are you sure seeing Ellie is a good idea?’ Ralph asked, solicitously. ‘She can be rather stressful.’
‘She won’t be today,’ Gorman said, confidently. ‘I’ve got good news for her.’
‘Well if you’re sure, sir,’ Ralph replied, sceptically.
‘And when you’ve done all that,’ Gorman added, ‘make the fire hotter.’
‘Very good, sir,’ Ralph replied, wiping sweat from his brow.
Gorman picked up his companion and sent his message to the parents of two hundred and seventy thousand children while Ralph spread honey on his crumpet.
* * *
Gorman’s chosen ones lay on the balcony staring at the moon.
‘Are we all mutants?’ Iman whispered.
‘I was normal when I was born,’ she said. ‘But I started growing horns when I was three. Feel my head.’
They touched the black girl’s scalp through her finely plaited corn rows.
‘Oh yeah,’ Audrey said, curiously. ‘I can feel them. What did they look like?’
‘Scary,’ Iman replied. ‘Like a goat’s. My real parents were so frightened they gave me up for adoption.’
‘I don’t mind now,’ Iman said. ‘My new parents love me and they wouldn’t care if I had hooves as well as horns.’
The French girl, Colette, sat up, and they watched with fascination as she peeled the skin off her left hand. It came off like a glove from the wrist, and beneath it, silver fingers glinted in the moonlight, fingers moved by complex joints and ligaments. Then she peeled the skin off her right hand, and held them out and turned them over so they could look at them.
The Roar by Emma Clayton / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes