Chapter Three

Well, Kerry thought, that was quite enough excitement for one night.

Now the circus-goers were filtering out of the tent. Olaf, the knife juggler, appeared with a pack of Benson and Hedges. Auntie Jo then decided to join him for a post-performance cigarette.

"Have a few," Kerry offered, "and I'll see you back at the house."

"Oh! Sorry, sweetheart, I won't be a minute."

With Jo, one minute usually meant fifteen. Kerry didn't want to wait around in the cold and besides, there might be clowns nearby.

"It's OK, I'll walk ahead. I don't mind."

"You sure?"

Kerry smiled, nodded and left her aunt behind. There was a stream of people cutting between the lines of trees at the other end of the Common. Beyond that, there was a long, straight road and Jo's house was at the end of it.

The mud was ankle deep now. Not for the first time, Kerry was glad she'd left her sneakers at home. She got about halfway across when she saw that mysterious figure again. This time he was standing out in the open, facing the tent. It was a bit creepy.

Kerry decided to walk straight past him, but despite herself she gave him a quick glance as she walked. A belt hung loosely around his midriff and his tie had been knotted with no real care.

A moment later, he was stepping into her path. Kerry stopped walking immediately. The man didn't make another move towards her. Just stood there. Maybe he was waiting for her to speak.

"The circus thing's over now," she found herself saying.

"How old are you?"

"Er... why do you want to know?'"

There was still a red gleam dancing in his eyes. But the lights from the circus were off now.

"You're very young," he said. "But no ordinary human being; I can sense it. Are you one of us, or are you like him?" He pointed behind her, where Olaf, Auntie Jo and Ranajay were standing.

Now Kerry was worried. One of us? It sounded like she was being indoctrinated into some sort of cult. By this man with red eyes, disheveled clothing and two pairs of gloves on his hands.

"What are you?" he demanded.

She stepped back and chanced a glance behind her.

"What are you?"

"I don't know! Just a person!" blurted Kerry.

The man's arm flashed up at her. He grabbed the sleeve of her coat before she could move, and she saw the bracelet on his wrist. It was engraved with his name, 'Douglas'.

"If you're not going to be straight with me," he told her, "you have to die."

Panicked, she tore her arm away and ran. It was almost impossible on this sort of ground she had the horrible feeling she was going to slip. Worse, she could hear him squelching behind her, and getting close.

"Jo! Augh!"

She tripped over a metal pipe in the grass and was launched forward, landing face first in mud. This wasn't nice, but there was no time to lie there moaning. Kerry tried to get up.

Someone else was coming, practically skating through the mud to get to her. It was Ranajay.

"Help!" she wailed.

Ranajay and the man with red eyes met over Kerry's head. She wasn't sure who struck first. The two aimed a few light slaps at each other, but Ranajay seemed to be dancing around the man, not wanting to get too close. Then he swiped out with his fist. There was an ugly CRACK. The man stumbled back, clutching his nose. Kerry felt a small flush of relief before Ranajay crumpled to the ground beside her.

What?

She scrambled to her knees. The crumpled form of Ranajay didn't move. He was face down in the mud.

"Mr Ranajay?" She tried shaking him. No response.

Ranajay was dead oh God oh God.

Even in the darkness, Kerry could see the man's nose was bleeding. It was very dark blood. He wiped it away and stepped towards her again. An idea hit her. The pipe, the one she'd tripped over. Kerry grabbed it and swung it with as much force as she could muster at the man's ankles.

There was a dull THUNK, which surprised the man but didn't seem to hurt him. Kerry rolled out of the way. Now she had a good grip on the pipe, both hands tight around it as she stood.

The man waited, searching her with his eyes. She wasn't sure it even was a man. What had he done to make Ranajay collapse like that? Maybe he had some kind of... power?

Don't be stupid, she thought, but she brought the pipe to head height, ready to swing again.

"Don't," said Ranajay's voice, "hit him."

Kerry half-turned. Ranajay was standing behind her covered in mud, but alive. Further away, Jo hung back helplessly.

"Sorry?" Kerry choked.

"Don't hit him. Don't give him any excuse to kill you, because he'll do it. He's much stronger than you realise."

The man turned to Ranajay and shook his head at these words. "My enemy... I can feel it."

"This girl is nobody's enemy. She's only a girl. Sir, you have to stay away from her."

"What about you, then?"

Ranajay paused, looking at his bracelet. "I was a Silencer once, if that's what you're sensing. But I have no interest in pursuing people like you now."

Kerry's gaze flicked back and forth from Ranajay to her attacker, trying to decipher what they were saying.

"People like me?"

"Yes. What you're sensing is probably normal because of my ex-Silencer status. I can understand your hostility. But please, leave me and this girl alone."

The man folded his arms. "That's not what I'm sensing. She has rare blood."

A peculiar look bloomed on Ranajay's face.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," he said at last. "She's a child. Please believe me, we're no threat to you, no matter what you think you sense."

Child? Kerry was fifteen. She was about to feel indignant, but then she noticed the stranger unfolding his arms. His eyes had gone blue now plain, ordinary blue.

"Luckily for you, I'm a reasonable man," the man said, calmly enough. "As long as I don't hear of either of you spreading trouble, I'll stay away. And you," he added, turning to her, "don't trust him."

Kerry didn't know how to reply to that one even if she'd wanted to. She watched the attacker walk away, then turned to face Ranajay, full of questions.

"That man," he explained before she could ask, "is on an experimental drug trial. His name is Douglas; you probably saw. I went to college with him. He plays a lot of online games and these drugs make him think he's in a game sometimes."

Kerry didn't believe it, but the fear was still rattling through her. All she managed to say was "Really?"

"Yes."

Jo had detached herself from Olaf's side and was unsteadily making her way over.

"And you just... go along with it?" Kerry said.

Ranajay gave a nod. "It's the easiest thing to do until he's normal again. I'm sorry he scared you."

"But... but I saw you collapse!"

"I didn't collapse. I fell, the same as you."

"How did you fall?" Kerry started to ask, but then Jo enveloped her in a hug and it came out rather muffled.

"Aw, Kerry, are you all right? Oh Gawd, look, you're caked in that horrible stuff. And look, so am I now! Urgh. We'll have to get home and put these things in the wash. Listen, what happened?"

"A friend of mine," Ranajay said. "He's not very well, on a few medications... I think he was trying to scare her. I sent him on his way but he's harmless, really."

Jo nodded, but still looked unsure. She turned to Kerry. "What did you trip on, then?"

"A pipe."

"Not hurt, are you? Good. Thank Christ; I thought something really horrible was happening! Anyway, cheers for helping, Ran," Auntie Jo said.

"No problem. I think you should take my number, in case Douglas turns up again, or if anything else is worrying you." He borrowed an eyeliner pen and scribbled the number on Jo's palm.

"In safe hands," she joked.

They thanked him again and left. Kerry walked tiredly, weighed down by doubt and confusion, and a trace of the fear that she'd felt a few moments ago. At first they walked in silence, but soon enough Jo was giving her the safety lecture.

"Seriously, Kerry... This is what happens when you run off and start talking to strangers. You get some real weirdoes walking around at night."

"I know."

"Please be careful, for God's sake. How am I supposed to explain to your mum and dad if they turn up back from Greece and I have to give them your remains in a carrier bag?"

"No. Sorry. Won't happen again."

"Good." Jo looked down at her hand and grinned.

"What are you so chuffed about?"

"I'm not chuffed." Jo tutted. "Well, maybe a little bit. But look! A young performer guy wrote his number on me!"

Kerry sighed. "It's not for you! It's in case Douglas shows up at our house with an axe or something."

"You really think that's going to happen? Maybe Ran fancies me, had you considered that?"

"It... it's possible."

"Oh no, you're using that voice. Kerry, am I old?"

"No! It's the smoking, that's all."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing!"

"You swine."

"Auntie Jo," Kerry asked, remembering something, "can you get colour-changing contact lenses?"

"I don't think so," her aunt replied. "But you can get UV ones that glow impressively when you go to raves. An old mate of mine used to wear them a lot. Contacts and fang caps. He was going to try to get his tongue forked too, the daft git. You know how people do that, don't you? They get a hook and-"

"Don't want to know!"

"All right, sorry."

Kerry grunted and pulled her coat more tightly around herself. She tried to put away the suspicion, kicking away at her brain, that Ranajay hadn't been entirely truthful with her about her attacker. 

The End

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