There was that sound again. A car alarm. High, piercing, incessant. Where was he? Everything was a twisted mess of crumpled metal and screaming. He could feel the warm, sticky trickle of blood down his forehead. His body shaking uncontrollably, the boy tried to reach up and wipe it away, staunch the bleeding, but his arms were heavy and numb. He couldn’t move. Lethargy overwhelmed him, his thoughts were slow, his vision was blurred. Vaguely aware of a loud, wailing siren, he closed his eyes once more against the flash of fire and shimmer of heat. He knew it now. He was going to die. He was going to die in this broken metal prison. The sounds around him faded, and he let himself slip away.
“You’re sure he’s the kid?” Flynn Douglas stood on the crest of the hill, squinting against the sunlight, gazing down at the bustling town below. He had his arms crossed, and had an unimpressed, ‘this better be good’ expression on his face. He looked over to the girl beside him, his tone dripping in pure scepticism.
“Yes, absolutely.” His companion, rather diminutive in comparison to his towering 6 feet and 4 inches, stood a little way away in the shadow of an oak tree, leaning against the trunk, observing from afar. Lilah Hansen.
“You’d better be right, Ly.”
“I’d be willing to bet my licence on it. No question.” She waved the laminated plastic card in his direction as if to prove her point.
This drew a ghost of a grin through the lines of Flynn’s assessing frown as he waved it away. “You’ve only had it back for two weeks, Guide Hansen,” he said, watching her carefully. “Don’t wish it away so quickly.”
“Don’t you trust me anymore, Flynn?” She turned on her puppy dog eyes and pouted a little, making her usual attempt to appeal to Flynn’s soft side. And boy did he have a soft side when it came to her.
He rolled his eyes and sighed, defeated. “Give me the details, then. Assuming you have any, of course,” he added, attempting to get in the last word.
This earned him a very dirty look, but Lilah let it slide. “Six stationed in and around his school all day every day. At least two follow him out wherever he goes, and there’s three camped out in the woods behind his house, and one either end of the street.” She smiled dryly. “Coincidence?”
Flynn nodded in reluctant assent. “I think not.”
“And get this,” she said, straightening up, reeling off the information like she was reading it from an autocue. “Last year he was involved in a four car pileup on the motorway. Someone driving drunk, apparently. His father was killed and he himself was beat up pretty bad. The doctors were amazed that he survived, let alone almost fully recovered. Back from the brink, you could say.” She gave Flynn a knowing look.
“You think that he’s had the death touch?”
“I’m almost certain. Why else would Soul Catchers be staking out his house?”
“Good point. Okay. So let’s say this is a job for the Agency. What are you going to do about it?”
A rare look of eagerness swept across Lilah’s features, lighting up her smile. “You’ll assign me?” She pushed off the tree and closed the distance between them in three bounding strides, throwing her arms around his neck.
Flynn sighed. How could he refuse her when she was like this?
“You have two weeks. No more.” He wrapped an arm around her waist and gently squeezed. “Don’t let me down, Hansen. Please,” he breathed.
“Now,” she grinned up at him, releasing her hold and pulling a mobile phone from her waistband, “when have I ever?” She pressed a speed dial button on the phone’s keypad, put it to her ear, and wandered away from him, tapping her foot.
He watched her go, his arms dropping to his sides as she danced lightly across the grass, impatient as always. A sad smile appeared on his lips as she started to talk animatedly, gesturing wildly and making her demands.
“Oh,” he said suddenly, “Lilah?”
“Mhm?” she said, turning back with a hand covering the mouthpiece on the phone.
“The boy… what was his name?”
“Charlie,” she said. “Charlie Sansom.”
“… and you really should take them— for God’s sake Charlie, are you even listening to me?”
Charlie Sansom looked up from his dog-eared copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and placed it to one side, giving his mother his full, undivided attention. “Sure I am,” he said innocently. “What was it you wanted, again?”
“I was saying that’s it’s six o’clock. You know what that means.” She rattled a translucent orange bottle, the kind with a white screw cap, at him before throwing it in Charlie’s general direction as she headed out of the door. It landed in Charlie’s lap where he sat, cross legged on the floor of his bedroom, surrounded by a myriad of discarded comics, books and CDs that he’d been doing the teenage equivalent of ‘sorting through’. She returned a moment later with a large glass of water. “Two now, and one before bed.”
“Thanks, mum,” he said grudgingly, running a hand through his dishevelled hair. He got to his feet and leaned against the window sill before tipping two of the pills into his palm. “Here goes,” he grumbled, forcing them down. He hated painkillers.
“I know it’s not pleasant, love, but it’s the best thing,” his mum reasoned, hovering in the doorway.
“I know,” Suddenly, Charlie felt a sharp pain in the small of his back. Stiffness from sitting on the floor, he supposed. Stifling a groan, he sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, the heels of his hands pressed against his eyes.
“And Dr. Hampshire says it’s not long until you won’t need them anymore.”
“Okay, Charlie, talk to me. What’s wrong? You haven’t been yourself for days; I’m worried about you.”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not fine. I can tell. Don’t lie to me, Charlie,” she pleaded.
“Seriously, mum, there’s nothing wrong,” he insisted. “I just haven’t been sleeping very well the past couple of days, that’s all.”
His mum immediately reached out a hand to feel his forehead. “Are you ill?”
“No, mum, I’m not ill. It’s just some stupid nightmare or something. I don’t really remember.”
His mum frowned concernedly. “That’s—”
Feeling the stirrings of a headache, Charlie made ‘shooing’ motions with his hands, scooting further up the bed to his pile of mismatched pillows, reaching for his book. “I promise, it’s nothing.”
His mum shot him a disbelieving look before theatrically throwing her hands up in defeat and backing out of the room. “Give us a shout if you need anything, love. Tea’s at seven.”
“Sure, thanks.” He waited for the door to close behind her before throwing the book down and leaping to the window. He threw back the curtain and peered out into the gathering darkness. He saw nothing. Of course you can’t see anything, he scolded himself. There was nothing to see. Partially reassured, he pulled the curtain to and turned away, returning to the well worn pages of Dracula.
As he left the window, he missed a shimmer of crimson at the end of the garden, dissolving, melting into the clouds above the trees, like a stain on the sky.