Life is normal enough for Steph until she gets pulled through a portal into another world. A world of nightmares and shadows. Just when she thinks she can leave, her new friends younger brother is abducted because of her. Will she return home? Will she leave him to die so she can go back to her single mum who must be worried out of her mind? Or embark on the adventure of a life-time, risking life, limb and even her soul...
Darkness stirred in the deep realms. Not the darkness of a cold winters night. It was the unending darkness of the void. The void that goes on forever…It was said to contain a being so terrible, that the most terrifying creature ever to haunt the dreams of monsters had given way to it. Inescapable, unbelievable and… fluffy?
There are many things in this world with no explanation. Like how all socks go missing in the washing machine. There are plenty of things in this world, which have perfectly good explanations. The sky is blue, cos it be! Gummy bears shouldn’t be green because it makes them look ill, and who wants to eat a gummy bear with a runny nose? There are also just too many things in this universe which have very good explanations, but nobody believes them. It’s the tooth fairy who brings you money in exchange for your old teeth because she doesn’t have any of her own*. But surely only children could possibly believe in such things? It’s all just nonsense. Surely…
Thunder threatened England from overhead, but England didn’t seem all that bothered. It had seen worse than thunder. Sleet was the worst, as far as it was concerned. Sleet had it in for you. It was cold and raining as well. But that’s all too common. Rain over England is only unusual when it stops. The rain didn’t lash, the wind didn’t howl, groan, moan or make any other kind of complaint- it didn’t have the good grace to be a decent topic of conversation.
Steph was walking home from youth-group with a friend and yanked up her hood against it, not bothering to remark.
“Hey I’ll see ya on Monday, right?”, the friend asked. She was overly short, in a way that makes you wonder if something sat on her as a child, or used a giant nutcracker and squished her. It was a compressed, squishy kind of short.
“No, I’m going on holiday, remember! You know, Butlins extraordinaire. Skeggy express? Get it right, Livs, get it right!”
“Aww, I forgot about your whole blinking week away. What the heck am I going to do in History now? Learn?” Olivia’s face twisted in mock horror.
“Gawk at Matt”, Steph grinned,
“and ignore Ms Aikenn ranting on about Hitler’s Germany, as per usual”. Laughing, the girls parted ways with a sisterly hug. Steph trotted up over the worn cobbles to her front door, fumbled for her key and cursed under her breath when it didn’t surface from the gloomy depths of her bag. Steph was known for losing her keys, or anything at all to be honest. When she was little, she’d believed that things were being moved by brownies. You really shouldn’t tell your kids stories like that.
Pitter, patter, blinking raindrop, she moaned inwardly. When does it ever stop? Feeling around the damp bottom of her school bag, she could only feel the worn cloth and the odd soggy pencil shaving sticking to her fingertips. With a sigh, she drew out her hand and her History folder obliged with a sharp rap to her knuckles. Hitler was obviously in a particularly bad mood today. Frowning, she plunged one clammy hand into her hoodie’s front pocket to grab her aging mobile- she’d have to call her mum. Lightening flashed and something moved on the roof, disappearing near the chimney. A small something. A dark something and the imprint of it against the shadowy roof and darkening sky was now etched into the back of her eyes. Blinking, she uneasily dismissed it. A cat, probably. Hand still in pocket, she realised her keys were there but her mobile definitely wasn’t. It would just have to wait. The cold metal seemed to stick to her fingers as she turned the old key in the lock, shaking and shivering because of the cold carried in with the disengaged rain.
Once inside, she had expected to be warmer. Instead, if anything the temperature had dropped a few degrees. Mum must have turned off the heating before she’d left for work that morning. Steph sighed, then laughed at her own teeth chattering. Having dumped her faded red handbag at the bottom of the stairs she went to the kitchen to turn it back on again. After that, she decided she’d make a hot chocolate, go up to her room and snuggle up in her new zebra-print duvet with a book until it was at least over ten degrees Celsius.
Stopping to take off her shoes in the painted hallway, she could make out a hissing sound coming from lounge. It had to be her cat Mittens. She’d found her on the streets, years ago. But another sound accompanied it. A low whine and the threatening murmur of a woman’s voice. Her heart rate suddenly accelerated at an intensely alarming rate. Had they had a break in? It hadn’t looked like it, but then maybe they’d come in from the back... She crept towards the door, sub-consciously holding her breath so as to avoid making any noise. Not daring to take a peek and screaming inside- she slowly, tentatively picked up her dad's old rounders bat. It had been resting against a stocky set of oak drawers pretty much since he’d left them. She blinked and stared at it in horror. What on earth would she do with it? She’d had a little martial arts training in school a few years ago, but now it felt meaningless. She wasn’t tall or strongly built. She looked more like a gymnast if you’d have paired her up with a sport. Or a trampolinist, maybe. Certainly not a fighter. But however weak her trembling arms felt- they were hurting Mittens…
“NO!”, she whipped out from behind the door, blood pumping wildly in her ears as she took in the scene. It definitely wasn’t what she’d expected. Her fingers fell limp and the bat fell to the floor with a resounding clunk against the polished wood. It was even colder in here, she registered, and Mittens was there, yes. But she wasn’t being attacked- she was attacking. Yet what Steph failed to comprehend was that the whine was coming from a small, shadowy dark creature on the floor akin to that that she’d glimpsed on the roof and the murmur of words she’d heard came not from a woman, but from Mittens.
Gob-smacked, she could do nothing. She literally froze to the spot, un-breathing. Mittens saw her and was as shocked as she was, accidentally releasing the… thing from under her suddenly vicious looking white paws. Her namesake. She immediately realised her apparent mistake and leaped after it, but it was too late. The thing had leapt into an amazing flash of blue light that appeared the old fireplace.
“Well”. Said the soft grey cat, ponderously, with the look of a frustrated muse.
“Now we’re in for it”.
A panting nightling appeared with a crack at the base of a gigantic, unmoving shadow, darker than the many other shadows surrounding it. The nightling looked terrified.
“Sire. Sire” It whispered pleadingly, “she is on Earth- I have found her”. The immense shadow gave the impression of leaning leisurely down.
“Then we shall waste no time”. There was a sudden, ominous snap. The nightling was no more.
*Included in this tale is how the tooth fairy lost all her teeth by eating too many sweets and if you were to hear the whole story, including swashbuckling sugar mice etc, you’d probably never eat cherry lips again.