Maybe Lucy hated broccoli, and liked cats.
She was reported missing. Somebody out there wants to know where she is, what happened to her. Maybe, her parents; maybe they love her, and are desperate to know that she is okay.
In which case, if I am – if I was – Lucy, there’d be no point in contacting them, would there? Lucy isn’t okay, she is as good as dead. She doesn’t exist any more. She’s been Slated.
She stares back at me from my drawing. I’d done her without the kitten, a different backdrop, but her eyes are the same. I get up to look in the mirror, then back at the drawing. My eyes. Apart from younger, hers look happier, too; even without the kitten.
This drawing I’d done with my left hand, paying almost no attention. It’s good, it is better than good. She looks like she could step off the page and into my room, or turn around and climb that…mountain?
A cold prickle of goose bumps walk up my back. Behind her I’ve drawn a long ridge that slopes down on her left, something I’ve never seen in person: mountains. They weren’t in the photograph.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
* * *
The next morning, Sebastian is still missing.
Every morning he is on my bed when I wake up. But that is two mornings now that when half awake and reaching out in all directions, I couldn’t find him, or a warm place he had recently been.
No sign when Amy and I go down for breakfast, either. Surprised to find Dad behind some papers in the front room while Mum tears through the kitchen making lunches at top speed. Sebastian’s dinner from last night is still untouched in his bowl.
‘Where’s Sebastian?’ I ask Mum.
‘I don’t know. I’m busy enough without hunting for a stupid cat. He’s probably off stalking a mouse or visiting a friend.’
Amy looks up from her cereal. ‘I haven’t seen him for a few days, either. Dad, have you been in the shed?’
He looks over whatever he is reading. ‘Last night. I’ll check after breakfast,’ he says and disappears back behind it.
‘Sometimes Sebastian hides there and gets locked in,’ Amy explains.
But I can’t help but worry. If children go missing and nothing is done, what about a cat?
I race to get ready, then check the garden. The shed in the back is locked and has no windows, but I call Sebastian’s name and listen at the door: no response.
A toot toot sounds out front: Jazz. Now that he is official and has a full complement of seatbelts, he is collecting us for school.
I round the side of the house to see Amy already there.
‘Come on. If we’re late for school, bet we’ll be back on the bus.’
We lurch up the road, and I keep my eyes searching the gardens and footpaths for Sebastian. And the road. So many cars like Jazz’s up and down every day at speed.
But see nothing.
Amy catches me looking. ‘Don’t worry! I’m sure he’ll be home when we get back later.’
‘Worry about what?’ Jazz asks.
‘Our cat is missing,’ I say.
‘Cats are explorers, like me; they like to wander the world, see what there is to see.’
Amy rolls her eyes. ‘Sure Mr Columbus; whatever you say.’
‘What’s with the shed out back?’ I ask.
‘What do you mean?’ Amy says.
‘There’s no key for it. It’s not on the house keys that hang inside; I checked.’
She shrugs, disinterested. ‘I don’t know. Only Dad uses it.’
‘Probably full of Man Stuff,’ Jazz says. ‘Like rakes and lawnmowers.’
‘No. Those are in the little shed on the side of the house,’ I say, having raked leaves a few days ago while Sebastian chased the rake. I feel uneasy. He has been my shadow since I arrived. Where is he?
With Jazz driving we beat the bus by enough to be early. I slip off to the school Learning Resources Unit before class to do a search of the other thing playing on my mind: Keswick, where Lucy lived before she disappeared. I just have to know: are those mountains in my drawing a real place?
As I login, I find myself comparing the school computer to Mac’s. This one is like every computer I have ever seen, until yesterday. We have the same at home; Dad installs and maintains computer systems all over the place, and I bet they are the same, too. The search screen has the interlocking Cs as always at the top left. I’ve never really focused on them before: CC for Central Coalition. The government. Mac’s screen had no trace of this logo.
My fingers are reaching to the keyboard, about to type Keswick when it hits me. Yesterday, Mac cautioned against searching for missing persons or anything touchy on other computers: they are all monitored, he said. I logoff, search undone. Suddenly queasy that Kyla Davis searching ‘Keswick’ where one Lucy Connor disappeared six years ago might set off an alarm in some faceless place.
Minutes later I am staring at a dusty old illustrated atlas of the UK from the reference shelf. I guess I was wrong. I did still draw Lucy with a cat: Catbells: a popular ridge with walkers, easily accessible from Keswick along the shores of Derwentwater. The spitting image of the drawing I did last night.
Maybe, I’ve seen a picture of Catbells somewhere before, and just put it in my drawing. Or maybe, some part of me remembers; some part of Lucy. I squint at the photograph in the book, then close my eyes. Trying to be there in my mind. But it is no good, it is two-dimensional; I can’t sense anything about this place. If I think about it directly I remember nothing. Yet my left hand seems to know a thing or two.
A librarian looks at me curiously across the room. She puts her cup of tea down on the desk. I hurriedly shut the book and shove it back on the shelf, and make an exit.
Mr Gianelli leads us out into the sunshine with our sketch pads. They had that wrong, the weather report on Mac’s TV: there is no sign of the rain, rain, rain they said would start today.
He marches us the short walk to the woods around Cuttle Brook, and plonks himself down on a bench with a flask of tea. ‘Go! Shoo! Draw something, come back in an hour and amaze me with your work.’
Everyone scatters, most in twos and threes. Paths lead off in all directions. I watch which way Phoebe goes and head the opposite way.
Paths criss-cross around, and I head into the densest part of the woods; I run for a while, anxious to put space between me and the others. I find a rock to sit on and start sketching trees, almost bare now. Grasses are dying back along the brook, leaves rotting underfoot.
No one is around. I switch to my left hand. What happens if I draw, pay no attention, let my mind wander?
I think of Lucy’s kitten. Grey with tabby stripes, short hair. Chubby or thick fur or both. A squirmy, wriggly ball of fur. Pounce: I draw her pouncing on a bit of string. She’d wobble on her back legs, rear up, wiggle and jump. She? Yes, somehow I am sure this kitten is a she.
But I can’t get lost in my drawing today. Instead of a grey kitten, Sebastian starts to appear on my page. Worried and restless, I shut my sketch pad and wander down the trail.
These trees were planted as a nature reserve more than fifty years ago; our biology teacher told us. Part of it burned out during the riots in the twenties, but it has grown back now. Not regulated any more, it is left to go wild. Birds flit about; there are scurrying rustlings in the bushes. I stray off the main trail to a spindly, barely there path, and wander. It winds in a random way, gradually leading me back in the direction I came.
When I come round the bend, she is so still I don’t notice her at first: Phoebe. Sitting alone on the ground, leaning against a tree with a sketch pad on her knees, absorbed. A robin is hopping on the ground: her subject? He is chirping and she seems to be holding a conversation with him, making little murmuring noises, and he hops closer and closer, until he finally jumps up on her foot.
And she smiles. Phoebe’s face transforms with it: her eyes are small and wide set; her hair hasn’t seen a brush in a while, and she is covered in freckles. But somehow smiling at the robin she looks different; gentle, sweet; not Phoebe.
She wouldn’t smile to see me here. I step back quietly but she must catch the movement, and starts; the robin flies away.
‘Dammit,’ she says. She turns to see who interrupted, finds me and scowls. ‘How did you sneak up on me?’
I pause, torn between answering and running.
‘Sneak? I didn’t sneak,’ I hear myself say. ‘I was walking and saw you talking to the robin. How do you do that?’ Curiosity drags the words out.
‘I wasn’t talking to any bird,’ she says, defensive. ‘And you did sneak, or I would have heard you.’
And I realise she is right. I didn’t sneak, like how she means – not on purpose, anyhow – but without considering what I was doing had avoided stepping on any twigs that would snap, moved with care about the undergrowth to avoid noise.
‘Can you talk to robins?’
‘Sssssh,’ she says. And I see he is back. She smiles again, not at me. If I move and he flies off, I’ll catch it; if I stay, I annoy her. What to do?
She draws and I crane my head to see. It is pretty good. I’m surprised. Stuff she’s done in class is average.
Eventually he tips his head to one side and flies away. She shuts her book.
‘Listen, you. Don’t tell anyone I was talking to a robin, understand? Or you’ll regret it.’
I shrug. Why would I, and who’d care if I did? I turn to start back the way I came, but something needles inside, and I find myself turning back. It is just her, and me; no crowd about on her side, and I’m bugged.
‘What is your problem with me? I’ve never done anything to you.’
‘Don’t you know? Are you really that stupid, Spy-head?’
I can feel my fists clenching but force them to relax, and breathe deep. Glance at my Levo: 4.8; so okay at the moment.
‘No one is here to help you if you blow up.’ She laughs.
‘Why’d you call me that?’
‘Because a Spy-head is what you are. Whatever you used to be, you’re not a real person any more. You’re a walking talking government spy, with that chip in your head tracking everything you do and say. You can’t be trusted. The rest of us – we’d never say anything to anybody older – but you can’t help yourself. Can you? You and others like you report on people, and next thing you know, they vanish. Your fault.’
She gets up and stalks towards me. I’m frozen, and she pushes me hard in the shoulder to get past and up the narrow path.
My Levo vibrates. I’m not a spy. I’m not.
I get back to Gianelli just in time to avoid being late. He is taking in the best sketches, holding them up for all to see. Phoebe’s robin is one of those chosen. I haven’t done much, and try to hide at the back, but it is no good. He gets my sketch pad out of my hands: finds half drawn trees, grasses. Lucy’s kitten, and Sebastian.
He snorts and hands it back. ‘I’m guessing you didn’t find your feline friends under a tree.’
‘The whole point of taking you young artists out of the classroom is to draw what you see around you. It’s usually Phoebe I have to call up about drawing her menagerie of pets.’
‘Sorry,’ I say.
Gianelli starts back for the school, others follow. I start packing my stuff in my bag when a hand reaches out and grabs my sketch pad: Phoebe.
‘Give it back!’
She dances out of arm’s reach, and opens it. A look – something – passes her face when she sees Sebastian. She smoothes the page and hands it back.
The phone rings at dinner that night. Mum scowls. ‘Let them leave a message,’ she says, but Dad goes to answer it.
I pick at my dinner, not hungry. Still no sign of Sebastian; after two days, even Mum is starting to worry.
Dad comes back in, coat in his hand. ‘Who wants to go with me to pick up the cat?’