She left school at sixteen, studied Animal Care and Photography at college and now owns a dog called Beau and takes many photos of many things. Mainly the dog.
All Con had to do was find Paula and then somehow get the news to Francis and get him to get them as far away from that place as possible. Easy.
The keys she’d managed to get hold of were of little use. The door to the ominous sounding ‘basement’ was opened by typing a code into a keypad – not by any sort of traditional lock or bolt – and this information she had gathered from Mia, who’d heard it from Carlos, the chef, who couldn’t possibly say where he’d heard it from and who, in Con’s opinion, was being obstinate because he was frightened of some sinister faction probably running the facility.
There had to be another way. She’d seen guards around the stairwell to the basement and seen the ‘staff only’ signs on the wall, so there was definitely something going on. She’d been steered away by a smiling carer when she’d ventured too close and she’d had to apologise and blame her newbie status for her lack of direction.
Just as she was about to admit defeat and take the keys back to Dora before anybody realised they were missing, she stopped outside a classroom – two glass tanks at the back of the room caught her eye. She looked over her shoulder, tried the door, and then went through the keys until one fit the lock.
Dora had hoped to surprise Chris after her lessons but instead of bursting into the staff toilets, she lingered outside listening to his voice as he laughed and joked with another of the janitors. She leaned close to the door, knowing she shouldn’t really eavesdrop but she had heard her name. Twice now.
“…blonde bird. Nice one, mate.”
“Yeah, bit thick but nice tits.”
Both men laughed and Dora sucked in a breath. She clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms. There was the scrape of a metal bucket across the floor and Chris’s voice came closer to the door.
“You seen that mate of hers with the fat arse? I’d love a go on that.”
Dora turned and marched down the corridor, quietly fuming. People winced and turned away as she passed, blinded by the light coming from her body. She didn’t care to control it. Screw them – she just wanted to get back to her room and scream into her pillow.
She’d almost made it when somebody snatched her arm and pulled her into a room. Mia’s bedroom, she quickly realised, and Mia and Con shielding their eyes before her. Dora made no attempt to relax. Continue reading
Mia listened as patiently as she could as Dora twittered on about Chris. She didn’t know what the girl saw in the guy – he had nothing on Carlos, the chef – his backside was too skinny and he had greasy white-boy hair. She nodded anyway and lifted another spoonful of soup to her lips, looking towards the kitchen and smirking at the idea of sneaking Carlos back to her room later.
When Dora’s topic of conversation changed to Paula’s whereabouts, Mia gave a loud sigh. “Girl, I told you,” she said. “She’s left. Finally. You should be happy for her!”
“I just think it’s a bit weird,” Dora said. “Like… It’s Paula.”
Mia rolled her eyes. “I know. And I know you miss her, I miss her too. But she’s in a better place now.”
Paula was, of course, in the basement. Mia suppressed a shudder at the thought and pushed her soup away unfinished. She wasn’t supposed to know about the basement, but she did. And she kept quiet about it because she did not want to end up there herself. She was perfectly happy in the House of Witches. Everybody should’ve just been happy and then there wouldn’t be any trouble.
Change the subject.
Con had snatched a kiss from Francis before he’d abandoned her in the Imagination Correction Facility and she replayed the memory as she waited in the check-in room, half watching a middle-aged woman setting out new clothes and books and toiletries for her.
That bloody arse. He should be getting his own damn daughter out of there, not leaving it for her to do. She shouldn’t have kissed him. It had only cemented something between them, some sort of bond. He’d probably manipulated her somehow – taken advantage of her stupid sentimentality. Except that she had initiated it. She had kissed him and that silly, confused half-smile on his face afterwards could only have come from an innocent man.
Bollocks to it. It was still his fault she was in there.
She collected her new belongings, listened to her ‘welcome’ in silence, and followed the woman down one of the clinical corridors to her room with a set jaw and a frown on her face. Then the woman handed her an itinerary and left, with the brief instruction that lunch was at one and to ask a member of staff – the ones in blue – if she needed anything.
Con dumped her stuff on the bed, vaguely aware that a thin mattress was better than no mattress, and went to look out of the window. Her room was on the second floor, overlooking a tennis court. Beyond the dome, the forest seemed impossible to reach.
So what now?
Trees groaned and creaked on either side of the road and dark clouds loomed overhead. Con hoped for a storm. If a tree blew over and blocked their path, she could escape.
She spotted Francis looking at her in the rear-view mirror and she stuck out her tongue at him.
“Mature, as usual,” he said.
The forest the road ran through was dark and dense – easy to get lost in if she could just get out of the car. “You’re being an arse. I don’t know why you’re doing this to me. To me. With our history?”
Francis sighed. “I have to. It’s my job. Besides, it’s your own fault – if you hadn’t killed that man—”
“That man was a scumbag.” She sat forwards in her seat and rested her cuffed wrists on Francis’s shoulder. “Pull over, Fran, yeah? Let’s have a little fun before you turn me in.”
It wasn’t far now until they’d reach The House of Witches. Everybody knew it lay just beyond the forest – out of sight and out of mind. If she could stall him, maybe make him change his mind…
The clouds burst and the rain came down hard and fast, hitting the car noisily. Francis turned the wipers on. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. “It won’t work.”
Dora didn’t like meditation. It was boring and stupid, and she wasn’t any good at it anyway. She had to sit in class with five other girls and listen to whale song and pretend she was floating in the sea, or walking through a meadow, or something equally as silly.
She opened an eye and took a peek. The other girls were still, legs crossed, palms resting on their knees. The teacher, Miss Thompson, murmured instructions to lead them through the meditation. Her eyes were also closed, and she moved her hands slowly by her sides as if conducting an imaginary orchestra. Dora had the biggest urge to take the woman’s spectacles – or the handkerchief sticking from her sleeve.
Miss Thompson opened her eyes and Dora closed hers a little too slowly.
“Concentrate, Dora,” the teacher said. “You want to be able to control your ability, do you not?”
The sooner Dora could get her power to glow under control, the sooner she could get out of the facility. She already shone less than when she’d arrived, so she was confident it wouldn’t take much longer. She didn’t want to end up like Paula – stuck there for years because she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, control her imagination. Continue reading
Paula lay on her back on the grass, arms spread wide as she soaked up the sun’s rays which filtered down through the shimmering roof of the dome. Buffalo snorted and chomped at the ground nearby, pulling up daisies. His hooves left prints in the earth as he moved and Paula turned her head to watch him briefly. He would never, and had never, hurt anybody. Why she had to be shut up in that place because of him…
She folded her arms across her chest and frowned up at the sky. No point thinking about it. She had to do something about it.
Somebody was moving over by the tennis court – not any of the girls – it was one of the carers. He’d taken the net down and now, picking up a hammer from his bag, started to bash at the metal post at the edge of the court. Paula winced as the sound cut through her and set her teeth on edge. She sat up and glowered at him.
Chris. She remembered his name suddenly. The new guy. He wasn’t much to look at – probably a little older than she was, with mousey hair, a slightly too-big nose and no arse. She got to her feet and walked over to him.
The staffroom in the Imagination Correction Facility was the colour of vomit. It reminded Chris of a recent night out where he’d drank far too much cider and brought most of it up onto the pavement outside the kebab shop. The girl he’d been with had laughed, called a taxi for herself and left him there, spewing up his guts.
He wiped his mouth, flicked sandwich crumbs from the table, and then got up to throw his rubbish in the bin. As he washed his hands in the sink, he gazed at the rota on the wall. He didn’t have a day off until Sunday. Great.
Sighing, he picked up his set of keys and headed out of the room. The janitor’s cupboard was just down the corridor and he stepped back to let two giggling girls pass – checking out the arse of the blonde – before unlocking the door and pulling out a mop and bucket.
Two weeks. That’s how long he’d been working there. Two whole weeks, yet in that time nobody had paid him much attention. The girls ignored him, mostly, and the rest of the staff only pretended to be interested in him when they had to work together. He could probably do anything he liked and get away with it.
With a curse and a struggle, Con pulled up the corrugated shutter and peeked out of the storage container she’d spent the day in. She stared into the darkness down the alley, spotted a black cat pounce on something by the bins, and then disappeared back inside to fetch her rucksack. She hauled it onto her back and then crouched by the entrance, holding her hand out towards where the cat had gone.
Here kitty, kitty, kitty.
“Come on, you little sod,” she muttered. The animal appeared from behind the bin, its amber eyes flashed and something – a rat – hung from its jaws. It took a step towards her, tail swishing, and she urged it silently closer.
When it reached her, she ran her hand along its back, making the connection she needed. She sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. Her eyelids flickered.
The cat dropped the rat and trotted down the alley towards the street. It looked one way and then the other, checking the coast was clear. Cars drove down the road, headlights dazzling, but they were unimportant. There was a group of young women across the street, dressed in short skirts and high heels, dressed up for a night out. Heading towards the cat, a man carrying a shopping bag.
Paula picked up her plate of lumpy mashed potato and congealed beans and carried it to the table where her friends sat. Fish fingers today. She hated fish.
She sat down and stared at the food as all around her the other women in the canteen chattered nosily, or hurled insults, or laughed. Chairs scraped across the floor, plastic cutlery scraped against plastic plates. Her head throbbed.
“…roast chicken,” Mia was saying, “with gravy and roast potatoes and peas. Watch this.”
Paula lifted her gaze and watched. Mia lifted a fish finger and it changed into a chicken drumstick in her hand. “It’ll still taste like fish though,” Paula said.
Mia dropped the drumstick onto her plate, where it abruptly turned back into a fish finger. “What the hell’s wrong with you lately?” she asked, flapping a hand. “You’re so damn miserable all the time.” She clicked her tongue in disapproval and picked up her knife and fork. A black curl of hair fell in front of her face.
“I’ve been here ten years,” Paula said. “That’s what’s wrong with me.”
“Yeah, well it’s not our fault you were an early starter.” Mia hacked a fish finger in half and shoved it in her mouth, glaring at Paula with eyes that were almost as dark as her hair.