I throw my rucksack down in the hall and make a beeline for the kitchen. There’s no smell of burnt food or trails of kitchen paraphernalia, which means either mum’s not cooking until much later, or, (hopefully), we’ll be having a takeaway tonight. There’s one packet of skips left in the cupboard which won’t go a fraction of the way to satisfying my growling stomach, so I grab a Petit Filous tube from the fridge and a large glass of milk.
Mum’s sing-song voice enters the kitchen two seconds before she does, allowing me to screw my face up in disgust without being seen. It’s bad enough that I was named after some bloody alpine goat girl, but constantly being greeted with a tagline from some lame ’80s sitcom makes me want to run for the hills.
”Don’t spoil your appetite, Luv, Dad’s bringing fish and chips in for tea.”
Mum is wearing her tragic velour tracksuit that is so last decade, but I fix a smile and greet her kindly, with a peck on her thickly powdered cheek that feels like dried chalk.
“How was school sweetheart?” If I could bet on the predictability that comes out of her mouth, I’d win big bucks.
“Fine,” I say, as I manoeuvre around her with ninja-like precision and head for the lounge.
My day wasn’t fine, of course. When is it ever? But on a scale of one to ten, today was one hundred and eighty… super smashing, great! Not!
Leah Townsend had the audacity to rat me out to Miss Peters for helping Kylie in our German vocab test last week – well that’s what friends do isn’t it? – and I had to walk the path of shame out of the classroom mid-lesson to go and see The Head. I coped, as well as could be expected, but now I’m left trying to figure out a way to tell Dad that I’ve got detention next Tuesday after school so will have to miss my extra maths tutoring.
That’s the least of my problems though. What skyrocketed the day’s stress levels to an all-time high was that Finn wasn’t at drama club at lunchtime. Kylie informed me whilst we shared a bunsen burner at the back of Mr McLoughlin’s lesson, that she’d seen him in the sports hall knocking around with Miranda O’Connor and the other cheerleader wannabes, watching the basketball match. Apparently, he was paying far too much attention to her and his eyes were fixated on her over-stacked shelf which was apparently bursting out the top of her shirt. Bastard! All in all, it was a stressful day and one I’d prefer not to expand on.
Planted on the sofa with my legs dangling off the end, I scroll through Instagram after first checking Finn has no story updates. I’m careful not to accidentally like anything, you must be vigilant not to mark anyone’s profiles who aren’t your friends, especially the ones who don’t know you spy on them. Why I do this to myself I do not know, but the inevitable happens and I’m drawn to Miranda’s profile where every little square is filled with a semi-naked picture of her in some sluttish pose drawing attention to herself. Yes, the boys all adore her, as do the girls since they envy her body. I know I can’t compete with her, not with my waffle-stamped thighs and baggy arse. Worst of all though, she wears her confidence like a coat of glitter draped over her perfectly toned body which every girl in our year is dead jealous of if they are honest.
Shit! There’s a selfie of her in the gymnasium earlier today, with her arm around Finn and them both pulling a wide-mouthed frog expression doing the peace sign, clearly not watching the basketball. They certainly look more than friends, and the timing could not be worse! My heart is pulsing fast, and I suddenly feel nauseous. It’s taken months to get Finn to notice me, and last week after drama club, we chatted for at least ten minutes, and I know by the way he looked at me, he wished it could have been longer.
Damn that bitch! She can have any guy in the whole school, yet she goes after the one I’ve had a crush on since year six.
Mum comes in and switches the TV on, flicking her head at me to signal I should take my feet off the sofa. I ignore her as she sits down opposite me.
“So, tell me about your day, sweetheart.”
“Oh Muuuum. There’s nothing to tell.” Why do parents do this? They’re so bloody nosy and say they just want to ‘connect with you’, when all they actually do is push you further away.
“Do you want to watch Black Mirror?” she says. Like she even knows what the programme is about!
“No, thanks. I’ve got homework to do.”
I throw the cushions off my lap, grab my milk and snacks and head for the door.
“But Heidi, it’s Friday,” she says. Oh, fuck! Why did she choose such a shite name for her only child?
I’m mid-Snapchat with Danielle and Daisy when Dad hollers up the stairs to come down for dinner. I grab the trackie bottoms shoved on the top of my laundry basket and put on the t-shirt which I wore to bed last night. I place both my hands on the tops of the bannisters and then slide down the stairs dragging my legs behind as if they are made of lead.
“You’ll hurt yourself doing that one of these days, Luv.” Dad watches me whilst hanging his jacket up on the hook inside the ‘mess’ cupboard by the front door. Mum calls it the ‘coats cupboard’ but why would you keep scarves, socks, rain hats, wellies and even sticky rollers in it?
“Do you mind if I put the TV on?” I ask, sliding into my favourite chair at the far end of the fake wood table. Why we need such a humungous table when there are only three of us is beyond me. I gave up hoping for a brother or sister to share the burden of dull parents with when I was around eight years old.
“No sweetheart, it will be nice to have some family time.”
Puke! ‘Family time’. That means fake conversations where we all pretend to be interested in each other’s sad lives and respond with kind, positive remarks that fulfil Mum’s psychotherapeutic expectations. Just because she’s into fluffy psychobabble doesn’t mean the rest of the world is!
Thankfully, I’m saved by Dad who discusses the new conservatory we’re having built this summer, showing Mum the design plans on his tablet. This gives me the chance to eat my battered sausage and chips in peace whilst I carry on checking TikTok.
“You’ll end up with square eyes one of these days,” Dad says, finally noticing me when he reaches for the jug of water in the centre of the table.
I shrug him off and get back to Gary Wilson’s profile where he’s uploaded a hilarious clip of Bruce Gavello flunking a somersault on the school trampette and landing square on his arse on the blue landing mat. Gary’s repeated it on Boomerang twice to the Can Can tune and it’s already up to two thousand views.
“Seriously, Heidi.” Oh no, here we go. “Mum and I think you spend far too much time on your phone and it’s not healthy.”
“I’m always telling her the same thing,” Mum says and I brace myself for the lecture that’s coming with a ‘yer, I know smile’ plastered on my face.
With dinner over, and dishwasher duties done, I ask to leave the room and go back to my bedroom where I can stalk Miranda and her bitchy friends to see if anyone mentions Finn. Dad peeks over the top of the newspaper he’s now reading and says, “There’s been another disappearance.”
Hell, more drama! There’s apparently some nutter on the loose in our town who is randomly cherry-picking teenagers between the age of twelve and sixteen. Five have vanished since half term, and whilst everyone is stressing out and acting like they’ve already died or something, I reckon they’ve just done a runner and are having an Ibiza-style rave somewhere. They’ll get busted sooner or later. It’s no big deal.
“I think it’s best if you pick her up from school for a while, Kate,” he says to my mother. I roll my eyes and sigh as I leave the room, there’s no point in arguing, it will only end in tears… my tears! Plus, my allowance would be stopped and I’d be banned from having sleepovers for a month.
My eyes start to feel heavy, and I check the clock. It’s only 9.30 pm, and a few of Danielle’s friends, and her brother – who is mates with Finn – have joined our chat. I want to hang on to see if Finn joins us, but am itching to check out some new account on Instagram where you can ask a psychic about your relationships, and so long as you know both star signs, she’s really accurate apparently. Finn is Leo, and I’m Sagittarius, so fingers crossed we are a match.
Mum pops in to say goodnight, making me feel like I’m a five-year-old again.
“I’ve brought you some water sweetheart.”
“Hun, why don’t you read a book or something before you go to sleep, it wires your brain being on your phone, and the blue light is apparently really bad for you.”
I smile, a little sarcastically maybe, willing her with my eyes to just leave. She must be telepathic as she slowly walks out of my room.
“Close the door please,” I say. And it does.
An hour later I’m wide awake again, catching up on the latest gossip from Danielle who says that Daisy has just been asked out on a date with Marc, who is two years above us! I instantly feel the familiar tug of the green-eyed monster, and depressed at the fact that I still haven’t been on a date with a single boy. I scroll through Instagram checking out all the boys in our year, looking for a plan B should Finn not ask me to the end of year Ball. They don’t compare. All of them look so young and their flat-topped hair with shaved sides makes me cringe. Finn is the only one who looks normal, not trying to act super-cool or pouting a moody, bad-boy pose.
I nearly jump out of my skin when my bedroom door opens.
“Heidi, it’s gone eleven. Put that phone down, or else I will have to take it off you.”
“Yes, Dad, sorry!” I place it on my bedside table and switch the lamp off.
A few seconds later, I reach for my phone and dim its light before returning to the chat. I scroll back through the feed and see they’ve all been talking about the mysterious kidnappings in the area. Gary Wilson reckons that there’s some kind of black magic at work and is freaking everyone out with his warped story of some alternate reality – a bit like the film Matrix – where teenagers are being sucked into a vortex where they are microchipped and then returned after being reprogrammed.
The disappearances seem completely random. Girls from the high school were snatched away right before the half-term break, and boys from our school have gone missing in quick succession since then. All of the victims have been close to the same age, with no obvious distinction between males and females.
It’s gone 1.00 am and Kylie and I are having a private chat on Whatsapp.
I don’t think you need to worry, Heidi, everyone knows Miranda is the local slapper and apparently, she’s got herpes!
Yer, but why did he miss drama club to be with her? I reply, secretly wishing that perhaps Miranda should drop off the face of the earth like the other kids.
After reassuring me by slagging off Miranda, Kylie says she’s tired, and her head hurts. Strangely, I notice there’s an insistent pounding in my head as though I’m coming out in sympathy with her. I put my phone on charge and snuggle down under my duvet to sleep.
An eerie buzzing sound fills my eardrums, almost like a distant alarm. My head feels like lead, I must have been in a really deep sleep. I try to open my eyes, but all I see is blackness. I must be having one of those sleep paralysis experiences I’ve read about, where you are conscious but unable to move your body or open your eyes.
I try to relax and drift back to sleep, but am aware that my mouth feels claggy with a strange metallic taste. My tongue is fixed to the roof of my mouth and I can’t swallow, so decide I need some of the water Mum brought me earlier. In my mind I reach for the glass and switch on the light but, instead, I’m lying in darkness under my duvet stuck inside my own body, unable to connect my thoughts to actions.
Panic starts to course through my veins but I can’t feel my chest rising, and I can’t hear my breath. What the fuck is going on? Am I sickening for something?
What feels like hours later, I hear Mum’s voice. “Have you woken her up, David?”
The door opens and Dad’s voice calls out to me, as if he’s calling me from an endless tunnel. His voice gets louder but is muffled as though I’m underwater. I try to respond but there’s nothing – my mouth, arms, legs, everything seems disconnected.
Perhaps I died in my sleep; but then, I’d not be thinking or hearing his voice if I were dead, would I? I pray he will see me motionless under the covers and realise I’m in trouble. Perhaps, I’ve had a stroke and am in some sort of a coma. Dad! Help, me. Call an ambulance, now!
“Kate, she’s not here!” He shouts to Mum, his words heavy with fear. What does he mean I’m not here? Of course, I’m here. I try to move my mouth and give a signal that I can hear him, but it’s like I’ve forgotten how to talk.
Dad! Dad, help me! I scream inside my head.
A loud beep blasts all around me and I’m floating, like I’m in space. Am I dying? Is this what death feels like?
I hear Mum rush into the room, but her voice fades in and out like someone is playing with the volume switch on a radio. Why can’t I feel them pushing and prodding me trying to wake me up? I can’t even feel the weight of the duvet pressing on my body.
Suddenly there’s a gush of wind, not the physical caress I so long for but the sound of rushing wind as my thoughts begin to race. Images from school yesterday flood my mind: faces, voices, laughter, chatter. I can hear everybody’s conversations simultaneously as if I’m sitting in the middle of the cafeteria, and every single student is dressed in glaringly bright colours as they file in ordered lines racing into the recesses of my brain. Then, all goes quiet, and I can make out the muffled voices of my parents again.
“Check her phone, has she gone to meet Kylie or something?”
Suddenly, I’m on a roller coaster ride in complete darkness. I’m propelled at great speed, up, up up, before jolted to an abrupt stop. It felt as though God’s hand just reached down and ripped me violently off the earth.
A pain sears from deep inside me and then there’s light. A blinding white light that hurts my eyes. I try to find focus but all I can make out is a large square window. The picture becomes clearer, but I wish it didn’t.
Whilst my heart is clearly not beating and my stomach quite still, I can still feel fear, somewhere in my brain. I’m trapped behind glass, looking through a square window at…. OH MY GOD! It’s Dad’s face, a huge and hideous magnified version with his white veiny eyes staring directly at me. He’s a fucking giant!
The realisation hits me like a freight train. I so want this to be a nightmare, but something tells me it’s not. The same something tells me that this is what has happened to all the other missing students. I’m inside my phone – held captive with no idea how, or why I’m here. Trapped inside this metal prison, I can see no way out and pray for the safety of my parent’s loving arms as I hear them sobbing in the distance.