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Chapter 7 - Isaac

I stand by Isolde’s house, my bottom lip trapped between my teeth as I anxiously chew on it. She hasn’t been in school for a week, and hasn’t been in the forest either. I went to see her doctor, but he said nothing about Isolde being sick. I’m torn between absolute frustration and immense worry.

Frustration is winning.

I close my eyes and walk up the familiar steps to Isolde’s house. I’ve knocked several times before, but with no reply. This time, I am going to get in and see what the problem is, come hell or high water.

Jaw set obstinately, I sharply rap on the dark red door, and listen carefully for signs of activity inside the cottage. Nothing. I grind my teeth and knock again. And again. And again and again, until I feel like breaking the damned door down.

Calm yourself.

I fill my lungs with crisp autumn air and start hammering away once more. Endless seconds pass, infinite minutes. Then finally, finally someone comes to the door. I put a stopper on the influx of verbal abuse that really wants to let itself out into the air. Isolde’s mother, Amanda, stands at the door, and I’m shocked by her appearance. Usually she’s absolutely pristine and presentable, with not a strand of her lustrous dark hair out of place.

But her black locks stick out everywhere, her face is pale and drawn with shadows underneath her sagging eyes, and she’s still in her bedclothes, although it’s two in the afternoon.

She stiffens like someone’s replaced her spine with a steel rod. “Isolde’s not well,” she says curtly. I try not to let her impolite tone untrack me, although it’s extremely unnerving – Isolde’s mother is usually so amiable . . .

“I went to Doctor Amadeus. He didn’t seem to know that Isolde was unwell,” I say accusingly.

“I didn’t tell him.” Her eyes are telling me to go away.

I won’t.

“Why not?”

“I didn’t want to cause any . . . panic.”

“Why would there be panic?”

“She has the Crabbins.”

That shuts me up. The Crabbins is a rare and very unpleasant disease. There’s a cure, of course, but it takes a while.

I swallow. “Oh,” is all I say.

We’re both silent for a bit. Then I say, very stupidly, “Can I still see her?”

Amanda shakes her head. “No.”

I manage to keep the rude words at bay. “Well,” I say stiffly, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I don’t think that will be best,” is the rapid reply.

“Why not?” I ask with an innocent, bewildered look.

She forces a weak smile. “Don’t want you catching it too. She’ll never forgive me.”

I suck my cheeks in, displeased. “Goodbye,” I mutter abruptly, and quickly walk away before I say something else.

Something is up. It’s very, very obvious.

As I continue down the street – well, it’s more of a dirt track really – I think of what to do about this. Climbing to Isolde’s bedroom window seems a good option…

I sigh. Maybe I should stop being so cynical of Amanda’s excuse – explanation. I’ll give three days, and then I’ll come back. And I’ll bang on the door again, louder and harder than before.

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