Prologue -book sample - now on sale
“Alysa, what are you looking at?” My mum asks me.
Sounding worried rather than suspicious that I’m up to something. Because I am definitely up to something.
I think I’m around eight years old now but to be honest my mum has never told me how old I am. As if my age is some big secret that she wants to keep. She’s never corrected me though. Even though she’s always telling me that not knowing my age will keep us safer in the long run. I stand chewing the ends of my strawberry blonde hair that is in two braids sat on my shoulders. They’re the perfect chewing length. My mum hates it when I chew my hair. ‘Chewing one’s hair when nervous is not ladylike behavior.’ It does make me laugh the way she says it in a posh voice with an accent. I think my Mum secretly got told it a lot when growing up, she never talks about it though.
I know that I’m different from other kids out there but I don’t understand why. Mum says I’m special and it’s why we must stay hidden until I’m ready. One day apparently, we won’t have to hide but she never says when that will be and what will change. I hope it will be soon. I just want to not see her looking over our shoulders in fear all the time but fear of others is all I’ve ever known.
Which is why I know that I should tell her what I see but something stops me. I’ve always liked to look out of the window of our downstairs flat in London, England. We’d just moved in here almost three months ago. I love to watch the people outside walking about as though they are always in a hurry. I make up stories about each person who passes by and write them down for mum as schoolwork. She calls it creative writing.
She will teach me a language for a whole month. We’ll study everything about that language. As we’re in England currently, the language of choice is English.
The man looks up at the window then he stops and people don’t normally stop or notice that I’m watching them. He’s watching the flat as if he’s waiting for something or someone. It’s scary and now he’s moved and standing in the communal garden. As though trying to stay out of sight of the windows as if he’s a spy. As if he might have been trying to find us. I watch as he pulls out his phone and starts talking extremely quietly. So quietly that even for Mum’s and my own sensitive hearing we could not hear what he was saying. He’s still staring right at the flat and I feel as though he’s staring right at me. I hope he can’t see me through the net curtains.
“The man,” I whisper loud enough for my mum to be able to hear me.
I try not to make her panic like she does. Because it’s usually a bad thing when they come in black jackets but he’s not wearing one. From what I can see of him, his hair is jet black and slightly long for man but not quite ponytail length yet at least. He’s huge, not in a fat way like the guy upstairs but mum says it’s rude to call him fat. No, this guy was muscly. Just like the men that usually come in black jackets. Mum always said that they’re all built like solid walls of pure muscle.
The men in the black jackets are scary because they’ve hurt my Mum before and if we see them it usually means pain or death. I know that more than anyone. I don’t understand why they can’t just leave us alone, we aren’t hurting anyone, we’re just trying to stay alive.
My Mum walks over to me. She’s beautiful, her long blonde hair is down to her waist now and she never has a hair out of place. My Mum is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. People are always stopping and asking if she’s a model. She’s that pretty. She always laughs it off though and tells them, no. But right now her beautiful face is twisted with fear as she looks out of the small gap in the curtains.
She says in a whisper, “Go and get your stuff Alysa, we need to run.”
That’s all it takes for me to react, I run into the room that I share with Mum and I know what to do. We have left in a hurry so many times before with barely even a warning. Because no matter where we go someone has a problem with us. A lot of times someone would attack us or turn up and we would need to flee. I may only be eight but I understand that we’re not human but that doesn’t make us bad. I honestly don’t want to hurt a fly, I’m just a little kid.
I pull out my bag from the wardrobe, I know the stuff that my Mum was talking about. It’s pretty much the only belongings I have, as we leave too often in a rush. So it’s important that I don’t have many possessions. All I own is a few outfits and my teddy bear that means the world to me even though I don’t know why. I shove it all in my pink backpack that has cute bunny rabbits on. I give our room a quick look around to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything important, or that would indicate that we were ever here. I know if I do leave anything then I’m never going to see it again. It was how I had lost my dolly when I was younger. I had accidentally left it under my bed when they’d made us run. That had been the men in black jackets though. The Men in Black would have been a good title if it wasn’t already taken.
I ran back into the living room knowing I had only been gone a few seconds. although it felt like forever, as my Heartbeat so fast from the fear of what was about to happen, what Mum’s going to do. Mum stood at the window sill, but she had her bag of stuff on her back. She doesn’t fear leaving her clothes just mine. Mum is looking out sadly as if she’s a step away from giving up. As if the person outside that window is hurting her just by being there. Her face shows recognition and hurt. Rather than the annoyance and fear that was there earlier. It’s almost as if she knows this person who might kill us.
She’s still hidden behind the curtain but I know she won’t stay that way for long. I know that she will go and face them so that I can escape. When I peek out of the curtain myself, I see that now the man has been joined by two others. They’re wearing black and trying to hide in the shadows but blocking off the escape.
One of them in that dreaded black jacket that fills my nightmares. He had ginger hair that I could see even in the dark. I could tell He was more ginger than my strawberry blonde. But He watched the house as if He was torn like He didn’t want to be there any more than we did. the others weren’t watching him through, but Mum was as if He was the most important one of the trio. Did She know him, is that why she looked so sad?
“Not ready, Beth, we are not ready, help us,” Mum says and it doesn’t surprise me.
She often says things like this out loud as if talking to someone who nobody but she could hear and see. I once asked her why she talked to herself and said the name Beth. She had told me that sometimes it felt like she could hear her old best friend in her head. Giving her advice when she needed it most. and then she told me it wasn’t important and to drop it. I dropped it like I’ve dropped asking a lot of questions that seemed to upset her. I didn’t want to hurt her.
I’m not going to say my Mum is a bad Mum because she’s not, she’s amazing, she always has time for me. She’s taught me everything that I know. And tries to give me as normal and as happy a childhood as she can. If we didn’t have to keep running and fearing for our lives then I know she would let me go to school. She’s said it herself, that she wants me to interact with humans and have humanity. As it is important that I know there is good in this world as well as bad. That, yes people have tried to kill us on and off my whole life. But there are just as many people that have helped us, sheltered us, supported us, have been kind to us and have cared. It is important to see the good and the bad and be the best I can be.
She does all of my schooling at home. Though we both struggle with math and she claims that she never had to do it in her country. But she never tells me which country that is. She never tells me where we’re from or our last name or even who my Dad is. That always makes her sad when I ask so I don’t ask anymore but I think he hurt her and let her down. I won’t let her down, I love her.
We can both speak many languages, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, German and Greek. If we are fleeing to a country where we don’t speak the language we learn. Mum believes that I can’t learn enough and that it’s important to have as much knowledge of this world as possible. That I should always keep my eyes open and my heart. She teaches me that humans are amazing and that while we are different and special so are they. Being someone doesn’t make them special, it’s what they choose to do in their lives. I look at my Mum trying to be brave.
“There’s only three of them but more will be here soon. She mumbles under her breath as quietly as she can for me to hear. I’m afraid that their sensitive ears will still be able to pick her words up.
I know it’s a warning to herself and to me, it’s time to go. The question isn’t if we are going, the question is if we’re going to make it out alive. Mum takes her eyes off the window and kisses me on the head. She indicates for me to move as silently as I can. I do as she directs as she leads me towards a window at the back of the building that is just big enough for me to slip out of. We had arranged all this in case this exact situation happened. I know that Mum is going to run towards the threat to make a distraction so that I can get away. It’s all part of her plan.
I slip out of the window and into the shadows. From where I stand in the shadows I watch her turn away from me and head towards the threat. Why couldn’t she come with me? I wait until I hear yelling and then I run for my life. All I can hope and pray for is that we both live through this and that I will see my mum again.
As I ran down the streets of London, down busy and empty paths alike, no-one stops me. Even though the sight of me must worry the people I pass. A roughly eight year old girl running down the road alone at this time of night. I run as fast as my legs can carry me. Not knowing if I’m being chased. As far as I can tell, from every time I look back, no-one is following me but I keep checking to make sure. I am scared stiff.
I run to the tube station that is the closest to our flat and jump down the stairs. Because I don’t have time to waste running down them. I also know from my Mum’s training that I will be okay and land on my feet. I jump on the first train that turns up. Knowing it’s safer to change trains than stay still for even a moment. Even if I’m on the wrong train, to stay on it could mean that someone could catch up to me and kill me. Mum has taught me how to confuse my trail,
“To get lost yourself is safer than staying still sometimes,” was what she had told me only a few weeks ago.
People are staring at me on the train but I try to pretend that I don’t notice and that I don’t care. I try to pretend that I’m not scared, that I’m not worrying about my Mummy. I’m trying so hard to believe that she got away but what if this time she didn’t? Maybe this time we wouldn’t survive. I pull out one of my books from my backpack and try to look busy, to look like this isn’t odd, to try and calm my fear down. I look at my German storybook that Mum tells me she and her best friend had enjoyed at my age. And yes, I do enjoy reading it but now I really can’t read it. It’s not going to help calm me down.
An old woman comes and sits down next to me and I force myself to smile and pretend I’m absorbed in my book. That her mere presence isn’t frightening me. I know she’s human. The whole time I check my surroundings but try to look like I’m reading. I make sure that everyone surrounding me is human. The old woman is looking at me and it worries me.
“Have you lost your parents?” She asks me, her voice soft but thick with concern.
I know she’s not trying to frighten me but she’s failing. I force myself to look at her, putting an innocent smile on my face. I can pretend that I don’t speak English but I don’t think that is going to work right now. Not with the amount of worry on her face and in her voice. I know it’s best to reassure her that I’m OK, even though I’m not.
“No, ma’am. My Mummy is meeting me at the other end.” I tell her.
My words as innocent as I can make them sound, hoping that what I say is the truth. Hopefully, Mummy will meet me at the other end. Hopefully, she will get away and we will live through this.
“Does she know you’re on the train by yourself at this time of night?” She asks me worried.
I nod but it doesn’t seem to help relieve her though. She is so nosy or maybe she’s just worried about the kid alone at quarter to ten on a Thursday night.
Deep down I know I will not get away from this old woman for a while. Even if I did she might kick up a fuss and that could lead them straight to me. Why do people seem to worry and care about the little things? If only they knew what is really out there, a child riding a train alone would be the least of their worries. Although, it would make them worry more. That was when the train came into the station, I have to make a choice now, I can either change trains or I can stay.
The woman goes to say something to me but I have an idea. I look at the underground map above the door and count the stops I need to go. I had got onto the train at Saint James’ Park and I needed to get to Blackfriars. I knew it’s only four stops away and I had done one stop already. This is going to be very risky as I have an audience but there is an instant way to look less odd on this train. And in London in general.
The woman is still talking to me but I haven’t heard a word that she’s saying. I look up at her then though and give her one of my most innocent smiles that my Mum calls, ‘I have a plan and it’s dangerous look’. She says she knows the look well and still doesn’t know if she should fear the look, laugh or be proud. I think I learned it all from her.
I look the old woman dead in the eyes, not blinking and making sure that she’s focused on me. Sending a bit of my hormones that I don’t fully understand yet. Whilst I have the lady’s full attention, in the gentlest and calming sing-song voice I can manage, I compel her,
“My parents are picking me up at Blackfriars, I am fine, everything is fine. If you have a sweetie offer it to me,” I say to her not breaking eye contact.
I need to see if it will work before I try anymore. She blinks at me a few times and I think that I’ve failed. Until I see her pupils dilate and the hazy look in her eyes, as if she is seeing the world but not quite seeing it. Mum tells me it’s like they’re drunk but it doesn’t hurt them. I had once looked into a drunk’s eyes once to see if they look the same and while the look was similar it wasn’t the same. The old lady smiles friendly at me and pulls out a bag of toffee from her hand bag.
“Okay, sweetie, would you like a toffee?” She asks me, her voice almost sing-song now.
I nod at her,
“Thank you,” I tell her gratefully.
I know that what I’m doing is wrong. Mum has always told me that making people do what I want is wrong and that everyone should have free will. That we should never take that way just because we can. But it’s better than the old lady kicking up a fuss and getting me even more unwanted attention. As long as I never take away someone’s choices or hurt them I don’t see what the problem is using it for the odd bit of survival. But then I suppose the more I use it, the more I could want to use it. But I’m not like that.
To completely confuse me Mum would tell me when to use it sometimes which never made sense to me. Although, most of the time we only wiped someone’s memory that they had ever seen us. We must stay hidden, I know that, staying hidden means our survival and I choose to live. I’m eight and I have never done anything wrong, that I know of, unless being born is a crime.
When people get on the train, they assume I’m with the old woman. It’s handy so no-one gives me another look. The ones who have been in the carriage when I got on are still staring at me worriedly though. I kind of wish I had got on the train with someone and sat with them convincing them I was with them as soon as I got on. It would have been a much better idea. Thankfully, no-one says anything before we get to my stop, so that’s a plus. If they inform somebody about me I will be long gone.
When we get to Blackfriars it feels like a lifetime. I turn to the old lady and look her dead in the eyes once again and I know I still have her in my hold. In my most sweet compelling voice that I used on her earlier and I know works and I practically sing to her,
“Please come with me,” I tell her and she nods at me and then takes my hand.
We then left the train hand in hand, that was easy. Hopefully, it will remain like that. We walk up the stairs of the train station, me holding her hand is if I’m just a kid with her grandma. How I wish my life was that easy. I pull her into the lady’s toilet because it would be wrong of me to keep her with me even if it does make the most sense.
“You will forget about me and go about your business,” I sing at her when we get into the women’s toilets.
She looks around the toilet puzzled not even seeing me as she blinks her eyes. I let my hold on her hand go.
“Why am I in here?” She asks herself wiping her eyes and blinking.
She looks at her watch then dashes out of here. I wait a few minutes then I make my move. Making it out with perfect timing to keep up with a man and woman with a buggy. They look to be in a rush too. I keep pace with them, hoping that to anyone who spots me it will look like I’m with them but dawdling. To get away I need to blend in with the crowd.
I got to where Mum and I agreed to meet if the worst ever happened at this home. It’s a hotel and I hope she’s going to turn up because I don’t know what to do if she doesn’t. She never told me what to do if the very worst happens. I go into the little hotel’s lobby and try to blend in. I sit on a huge red chair with my backpack on the floor in front of me. I keep looking at the check-in-desk as if waiting for my parents to check-in. I suck my hair, I know it’s a nervous habit and I really am trying to break it but it’s not working especially when I’m this scared. Mum doesn’t have to keep saying that I need to get my haircut because I honestly am trying to quit.
Every time the hotel doors open, I look over and it doesn’t take her long after my arrival. She walks in like she owns the place. A beautiful woman that looks like she belongs on the runway and not in this dingy hotel. Not a strand of her blonde hair is out of place as she sways as she walks over to me. No-one can tell by looking at her that she’d been in a huge fight but I can sense that her magic is weak. I can smell blood on her and I can see by the slight wobble in her step that she’s injured. She’s pretending she’s not as all eyes are now on her. The men in the lobby look as shocked as the women do at seeing her beauty. My Mum ignores them. Her looks definitely do not help us blend in, she’s said it herself so many times.
She walks straight up to me as I watch her as I’m not sure if I should make a move just yet. Mum’s focus is on me as she looks me up and down checking to make sure that I don’t have a scratch on me. I see the relief in her face once she’s checked me over and knows that I’m OK. When she reaches me she takes hold of my hand and I pick up my backpack with my other hand.
“Where now Mum? I ask, whispering as she walks us out of the hotel.
She smiles down at me as though this is all just an adventure as though she’s not scared or hurt.
“Hidden, Alysa, we must always stay hidden until it’s time to be found,” she says as if it makes sense.
We flee the country as quickly as we can, moving about constantly. This is how I spend most of my childhood. Running from one country to another, fleeing for our lives. We don’t get to settle down and most of the time we get away before they turn up. Because we don’t stay in the same place again longer than two months.