‘So what did they want?’
Valorie sat squashed in the back with Ruby, Hermes and Charley. The back seat was very cramped, and Simon’s seat kept accidentally slipping back.
‘I think there’s something wrong with the thing,’ he said, pretending to wrestle the seat back into control, and then letting it slip back once again. He suppressed a giggle as Valorie clutched her bruised knees.
‘I don’t think he likes us very much,’ she remarked to Ruby.
‘Don’t mind him,’ she replied, adjusting her hair. ‘He’s just relieved to be away safe.’
Valorie nodded, and then glanced past her at Charley. ‘You didn’t answer my question.’
Charley sighed. ‘They wanted me to take down Adam Quinn.’
Everyone but Valorie made a shocked noise.
‘Who’s Adam Quinn?’ she asked.
‘Adam Quinn is a student in the West Midlands. I taught him once, but unfortunately he proved too powerful for me to control him in our sessions. He’d thrown the same television at me about fifty times, so I said he had to go.’
‘He threw a television at you?’
‘Adam Quinn has a lot of power. He is able to distort reality itself.’
‘Well, to some extent. There are some things he can’t do, that nobody can do. He can’t kill someone just by wishing to, and he can’t bring back the dead. However, he does have a powerful influence over people’s minds, and on inanimate objects.’
‘So he’s quite dangerous?’
‘Very dangerous. Unfortunately, he happens to have an anger management problem, and he’s extremely antisocial. He has few friends – at least, friends he can keep.’
Valorie thought. ‘So has he done anything really bad recently?’
‘My resources tell me that Adam’s friend of five years was found mangled up in the back of a rubbish truck. They also tell me that his girlfriend has also been missing for some time.’
‘What are your resources?’
Ruby shifted in her seat. ‘Si, get your head out the way, I can’t see the mirror.’
‘My resources are none of your business. I just thought it prudent to keep an eye on him, that’s all.’
Charley sank back in the chair, then winced, and sat up again. Valorie acted as if she hadn’t noticed.
‘OK, so, the Government are only just getting scared because…?’
‘You’re asking a lot of questions today,’ Charley commented.
‘Mmmmm. So, why are they panicking now?’
‘Because I gather they’ve been receiving a lot of threatening phone calls from Adam.’
‘Ah. I see.’
‘So… why do they want you, exactly?’ Eddie said, twisting her head round slightly.
‘Why? God knows. But the really insane thing is they want me, and me alone, to bring him to them.’
Hermes’ mouth dropped open.
‘That’s… that’s insane!’
‘Yes. Like I said.’
‘You wouldn’t have much of a chance against him?’ Valorie enquired, trying to sound casual.
‘Not a chance. He’s too powerful. I tried to explain that if lots and lots of Wizards went up against him, we might have a chance, but they wouldn’t listen to me.’
He tried sitting back again, winced, and sat up.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to go to the doctors’ or something?’
‘Yes,’ he said curtly. ‘Enough about me. Valorie, how have you been getting on in my absence?’
Valorie thought. ‘Er… not a lot, really. Worried a bit… my parents are going through another bad patch. Mum’s stressed out because she has an exam today, and – Mum!’
Valorie slapped her forehead. ‘Oh Jesus! She’ll be home soon! God, why didn’t I think?’
Eddie glanced anxiously at the clock on the dashboard.
‘It’s two forty now,’ she said. ‘When do you have to be back home, Valorie?’
‘No later than four,’ Valorie replied, staring out the window. ‘Sorry to rush you Ed, but could you kind of step on it, please?’
Eddie put the car into another gear and they shot forward. Simon’s seat slid backwards again, hitting everyone’s knees.
‘We’re almost there,’ Eddie said, clutching the wheel. She looked terribly worn-out, but was still chatting to everyone.
‘Alright,’ Charley said. ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to teach you today, since you’re so obviously in a hurry -’
‘But I’d like you to go home and get some practice of your own done. Teleportation might be difficult in a confined space – I know your own bedroom’s not very roomy – so try and get some etheric projection done instead.’
Valorie sighed. ‘OK.’
‘Still finding it difficult?’
‘Yeah. I still can’t grab anything. I always teleport instead, and I don’t like to run the risk of suddenly appearing in the bathroom while my mum’s having a shower or something.’
‘Very true. Please practice though.’
The car pulled up at the end of Valorie’s street. Hermes got out, and Valorie shifted to the door and stepped out after him.
‘See you all later, I guess.’
‘Bye Valorie. Have a good day,’ Eddie said, smiling wearily at her.
Valorie stood and waved at them as the car pulled off, and then walked down to her house.
When she entered, she was pleasantly surprised to see her father up and about, looking entirely rejuvenated. He had a carton of orange juice in his hand, and she could smell cooked bacon.
‘You’re up,’ she said brightly.
‘Yeah, feeling a lot better,’ he said. He took a swig of orange juice from the carton, and then offered it to her.
She took a swig.
‘It’s usually the way. Doing computer stuff like that really wipes me out for about a day, and then I’m all better.’
‘So you felt OK when you woke up?’
‘All I remember,’ he said, ‘is getting out of bed and feeling extremely hungry. So, how was your day?’
Valorie nodded, playing with her hair. ‘Busy.’
‘Yeah? Shame. I think they push you too hard at that school sometimes. I’ve seen you come back home looking as if you’ve spent the day pushing boulders around.’
Valorie laughed. ‘Yeah. Today we had to rebuild Stonehenge.’
Her father sucked in air. ‘Shocking. Just shocking.’
Valorie took the orange juice from her father and stuck it back in the fridge. ‘Do you know what time Mum’s going to be home?’
‘About half an hour, she said. Why, got any plans?’
‘Nah. I’m just going to my room for a bit, OK?’
Mr Morse nodded. ‘Go and have a rest, you look awful.’
‘Thanks a lot, Dad.’
Fortunately, Valorie’s teleportation had improved. She was able to control where she landed, so she stuck to the confines of her room to practice. Concentrating, she breathed out, and left her body behind.
The room looked like less of an empty void. Now she could make out outlines of furniture and things like that. She floated towards the mirror, suddenly curious as to what she would see.
Positioning herself, Valorie saw a wispy white figure hovering in front of her. There were certain details she could pick out – the beginnings of a nose, and maybe some hair – but nothing more.
Sighing, she propelled herself over to the left, away from the mirror. On the desk in front of her was a bouncy ball. It was just the right size for practicing with. In fact, that was the only reason she’d bought it. It wasn’t a very good bouncy ball, actually. It was an ugly colour and unpredictable.
She’d tried bouncing it once in the kitchen. It bounced, and then, for no reason whatsoever, flew off through the open door of the kitchen. It took her twenty minutes to discover where it had bounced off to – she found it caught up in the lampshade in the hallway.
Valorie looked at the ball. She stretched out a hand to grab it, waiting for the surprise jolt.
But this time, it didn’t happen. Valorie’s hand (if you could call it that) went right through the ball.
And it moved. It rolled across the desk, perching on the edge.
Valorie looked at it.
OK, she thought to herself. Just do what you did the last time.
And she did. Again, the hand went through, and the ball moved more. It fell off the desk.
Valorie opened her mouth, laughing, although only a weedy noise came out. It sounded funny. It sounded like the noise you got when you blew bubbles into your milkshake through a straw.
Still laughing, Valorie slowly moved backwards, trying to land neatly back into her real, solid form. As always, she landed with a bump, but that didn’t really matter. She’d done it. She’d made progress.
Valorie returned downstairs. Her dad was watching something on the TV, so she walked over to him and curled up on the sofa.
‘What are we watching?’ she asked.
‘Nothing really, it was just on. What do you want for dinner?’
Valorie tucked her feet up underneath her and placed her head on the armrest. ‘I don’t know, what is there?’
‘I dunno. Could check the freezer, I suppose.’
‘What, me check it or you check it?’
‘Up to you.’
‘Oh, for Heaven’s sake,’ Valorie sighed good-naturedly, and got up. She strolled into the kitchen and looked in the freezer.
Still nothing inside but a few fish fingers and some mixed veg.
‘We need to go food shopping,’ she said.
‘Alright. I guess we could eat out. Give your mum a bit of a break, won’t it?’
‘Can we afford it?’
‘Should be able to, yeah. We’ll just order something small. I’m not really hungry, are you?’
‘You’ve spoiled your appetite with all that bacon.’
They heard a key turn in the lock, rattle back and forth for a few seconds, and then click. Mrs Morse marched inside.
‘’Hi, Mum,’ Valorie said, rushing over to give her a hug. ‘Are you OK?’
‘Not bad, sweetheart,’ she said. ‘I think I did alright, actually. Oh, I don’t like exams,’ she wailed, collapsing on the sofa.
‘I had an idea,’ her father said. ‘I thought we’d go out and get pizza or something, just to celebrate the fact that you got through another exam.’
Mrs Morse stretched full length on the sofa, already in a sleeping position.
‘Fast food again? That’s the third time this month. I mean, it’s nice, but maybe I should cook more dinners around here.’
‘You’re pursuing a degree, Mum,’ Valorie said. ‘No-one expects you to do everything.’
‘That’s what Mums are for,’ Mrs Morse chuckled morosely, and rolled onto her front. ‘Urgh, what a long, tedious day.’
‘Come on, my good woman,’ Mr Morse said, grabbing his wife around the armpits. ‘Don’t make me drag you to the car. One way or another, I am treating you to a meal out.’
Mr Morse tickled her, and Mrs Morse squirmed.
‘Carl, I mean it, stop it – Ah! Ha ha ha… no, get off, get off… hee hee heeeee!’
Valorie joined in, and a lot of pushing and shoving ensued. Eventually, her mother let herself be pulled off the sofa, and she got her coat back on.
‘Where did you want to go?’
‘I thought that kebab place – they do pizzas there now, and I thought, yeah, we’ll give that a try.’
‘You’re the boss.’