Sleep eluded her. Sammy lay in bed staring at the chandelier as it swung side to side. Mehrak had tried to comfort her, but nothing he could say made a difference. When she heard him snoring on the floor at the foot of the bed, she got up and went downstairs.
Hami was still sat at the kitchen table, staring into space.
“Hi,” Sammy said.
Hami dipped his head but said nothing. He stared down at his wrists and scratched at them absentmindedly.
Sammy approached the stove and stood with her back to it, hands behind her bottom, palms out. The position she adopted at her grandmother’s stove; a large, enamelled, oil-burning oven that remained hot all year round and radiated warm comfort.
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Hami said eventually.
“At least you told it like it is.”
“Right,” Hami said. He stared at his hands. “I didn’t want you to have false hope.”
Sammy said nothing.
Hami coughed, got up from the table and went to lean over the sink. He threw up and remained hunched over, his chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.
“Are you going to be alright?” Sammy asked. “Mehrak said that if you breathe in the smog …”
“Then you die?” Hami turned to face her. “I don’t know.”
“Can you go to hospital or something? To get better?”
A fleeting smile crossed his face, then he became despondent. “When I’ve had my meeting at the Keep, I’ll return to my garrison
for treatment.” He washed his face in the sink, then came over and sat on the bench opposite, but away from Sammy. He put his elbows on the table and his face in his hands.
“Can I get you anything to make you feel better?”
Hami shook his head.
Sammy laid her head on her arm and watched him. He was a good-looking guy, his face spoiled only by the grimace he wore as his permanent expression. Was it purely sickness that was troubling him? He seemed so sad. Could there be something else on his mind? He took a long, shuddering breath but remained hidden behind his hands.
Sammy closed her eyes and, despite the Katamari ball of thoughts rolling around in her head, she drifted into an uneasy sleep.
Behnam was being chased. He stumbled along the tunnel, blind, his arms ahead of him, feeling for obstacles. He tripped, fell, got up, kept going.
His pursuer scampered along behind him, giggling girlishly and childlike, but maniacal and insane at the same time. He should turn back and tackle her, whoever she was. But that laugh, it terrified him. It was unhinging his brain. He couldn’t think straight, couldn’t control his emotions. Fear drove him on.
He kept going, staggering, stumbling. He seemed to be in a permanent state of falling forward, yet somehow he remained upright. The laughing was getting closer, then further away, then close again. He was being toyed with.
Then light. Far away at the end of the tunnel.
Behnam forced himself on, close now. He was going to make it.
He stumbled out of the tunnel into a long cavern. Two men dressed in white stood at the far end. Each held a burning torch
and each, unbelievably, had wings. Were they angels? What were they doing there?
In between them, a circular opening yawned wide.
Behnam struggled towards the winged people. “Help!” he called.
A giggle behind sent him spinning round to face the dark tunnel he’d left. His pursuer was getting close, he could hear her feet pattering on the stone. Then nothing. Quiet. Behnam leaned closer.
There was a giggle behind him and he wheeled back round towards the angels. A girl stood in the circular opening of the tunnel behind them. A slim teenage girl with yellow hair. She smiled a tight-lipped smile. Then screamed, baring pointed triangular teeth, her eyes lighting up a burning red.
Behnam fell to the floor, his heart palpitating, terror paralysing his body. The angels turned on him, teeth bared, fangs in their mouths, snarling like wild animals.
The girl giggled, high pitched, then getting deeper until it became booming and demonic. She heaved up a wide, golden disc from the floor, lifting it high, then she stared Behnam in the eye as she snapped it above her head.
Black shadows screamed from the crack, racing towards him. Crying faces unfurling in the smoke.
Behnam woke, drenched in sweat and shivering. He burst into tears. The nightmares had begun. Surely he couldn’t have long left.