Her mother was by the fridge, wringing the last dregs of rosé out of a three litre box into a mug.
“I don’t want to fight any more,” she said over her shoulder when Sammy entered the kitchen. “You don’t need to be in college for the next few days. Let’s talk tomorrow when we’ve calmed down.” When Sammy didn’t reply, she put down the wine and turned to face her.
Sammy remained in the doorway and held out her arm with the locket dangling from her fist.
“Where did you get that?”
“The last two years I’ve doubted myself. Sometimes wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing. And this entire time you’ve kept this from me?”
Her mother’s face was hard. “The locket was around your neck that day I found you under my bed. I rescued it when I dragged you back to your bedroom.”
Sammy tried her best to keep her voice calm and measured, but she couldn’t keep it from cracking. “Why didn’t you give it back to me when I woke up the next morning?”
“Because you’d stolen it.” The hard lines of her mother’s face were dissolving. Her lip trembled and tears were running down her cheeks. “Like you stole that bracelet.”
“Stolen?” The accusation lodged in Sammy’s throat.
“When you told me that story about a land full of giant mushrooms and dinosaurs, I knew something was wrong. I tried to take the jewellery to school to see if any of the teachers or
parents claimed them.” She closed her eyes. “I didn’t take them to the police station because I didn’t want you to get into trouble.”
Sammy had heard enough. She turned away and went upstairs. When she reached her bedroom she closed the door behind her and approached the bed, readying herself for the scream that didn’t come.
An eerie calm settled over her. She put the locket over her head, picked up her football and ran back downstairs.
Her mother was in the same place she’d left her.
“Where are you going?”
Sammy didn’t answer, she carried on through the kitchen and slammed the front door as she left.
The common at the bottom of the road was dark, lit faintly by the lights in the council blocks that loomed at the far end. Dark was fine. Being alone at night didn’t scare Sammy like it might other young women.
She kicked the football wide of the goal. As it lifted off the ground, she concentrated on it, imagining the molecules making up the leather and stitching. She willed it back towards the goal, spinning it, pulling it round in an arc. The ball pinged off the post and into the back of the net.
Ever since she’d returned from Perseopia, she’d been able to do that. Plenty of guys in the team could curl a ball. None of them could curl it like she could. Not even close. The least bitter and sexist guys called her banana feet. The ones who’d lost places to her on the team? She’d once overheard them call her ‘soccer slut’, as if beating boys at football somehow made her sexually promiscuous. She imagined they said worse behind her back.
Perseopia had changed her. She was able to shift small objects if she concentrated hard enough. She couldn’t do much with heavy or stationary objects. The forces of gravity and friction were
generally too strong for her new powers, but airborne objects she had some sway over.
She knew things, too. Could feel without seeing. Not a lot, just the merest suggestion of someone’s feelings. But it was enough. She could tell when someone was approaching. Had a vague sense of their intentions before they opened their mouths. Which meant she was never afraid of going out alone after dark. And why she never lost a fight. Punches were telegraphed well before the attacker clenched their fist, and when they swung, it was as if they were moving through treacle.
How powerful would she be by now if she’d stayed in Perseopia to be trained by Hami? He’d used her as bait to draw out the evil Ramaask. Which was not cool. But ultimately the plan had worked, she’d survived, and the realm had been saved. She didn’t like it, but could see why it had been a price worth paying.
But her powers weren’t focused. She needed tuition, to talk with someone who knew what was happening to her. If she’d remained in Perseopia with Hami guiding her, she could’ve been on her way to becoming a master magus. Instead she’d returned home to Sheffield. She’d come back to be with her mum, only to have her possessions taken away, and to be labelled a thief.
And then there was Jerry. When he came into their lives, the relationship Sammy had enjoyed with her mother had drifted even further apart. In some ways that was a blessing. Sammy was left to her own devices and that meant she could do what she wanted. But what was there to do? There was nowhere to go and she had no prospects for the future.
She was smart, and when her teachers weren’t shouting at her she produced some decent work, but her grades had taken a hit by getting expelled from and changing school several times. She might not even get into University on her current trajectory. Not that she could afford to go even if that avenue presented itself to her. Jerry had offered to loan her the fees, but she wasn’t taking that chump’s money. She should find herself a part time job, but then she’d be
stuck with her mum and Jerry until she could afford to leave. Which was never.
The future was looking bleak.
Her mum wasn’t around when she got home. She’d be at Jerry’s. An angry note on the kitchen table confirmed as much. Sammy balled it in her fist and threw it over her shoulder, guiding it into the bin with her mind.
The microwave clock displayed 23:45.
Sammy went to the cellar door and opened it. She shivered as she descended into the dark. Despite being summer, it was always cold and damp in the cellar.
At the bottom of the stairs, she flicked on the light and used its dim glow to pick her way through soggy cardboard boxes to a pile of her dad’s old possessions in the far corner. A chipboard TV stand, a cricket bat, an old suitcase that contained the family photos he’d been in, and behind them, a mouldy golf bag with a single club inserted the wrong way, handle up. Sammy took the grip and pulled it out.
The Midnight Emerald bracelet dangled from the head.
Sammy had stashed it in the golf bag to be protected by the repellent force of her father’s possessions and the eight-legged guardians that dwelled in the webs adorning the ceiling.
She’d once found it in her mother’s handbag and had decided to take it back. In hindsight, she realised that it had probably been in there from one of the times her mum had tried taking it to school. If she’d rummaged deeper she might’ve found the locket in there, too. Why hadn’t her mum come to her first? To talk to her before assuming the worst? Sammy often had lapses in judgement, but she wasn’t a thief. How had their relationship come to that?
Sammy held the golden bracelet up to the single bare light bulb.
The bottle-top sized emerald – if in fact it ever had been an emerald – was dull and brown, and had been since she’d returned from Perseopia. Looping around the gem’s fixing was a stanza written in the Avestan script. The same script used on the locket dangling at her throat. Esther had translated the words for her pre-Perseopia. Now she was able to read it herself.
“Raise your hands to the skies
“on the tone of midnight,
“and you will travel to the land
“of endless twilight.”
The hands, which she’d figured out referred to the clock hands either side of the gemstone fitting, were stiff and unresponsive.
Sammy polished the gemstone on her t-shirt and peered into it.
The emerald lit up for a split second, pulsing with green light, then returned to the dull brown that had become its natural state. Sammy never flinched. The emerald had done the same thing on numerous other occasions in the last several months. She didn’t know when it had started happening. Only that it had.
She’d been down in the cellar many times since, to look at the bracelet and to remember Perseopia, Mehrak, and Louis. And more recently, Hami … wondering if he’d saved the day. Or if he’d been arrested for treason. She would often daydream about the realm returning to life, the skies clearing, people celebrating. There was no doubt in her mind that she should’ve stayed.
Esther, ‘The Chosen One’, had never returned for the bracelet. Sammy had gone to the market every Saturday for weeks afterwards, wandered the streets of Sheffield, even waited outside the gates of her old school. Yet the woman never returned. Unlocking the portal to save Perseopia clearly wasn’t as important as she’d made it out to be. Unless she’d sensed that Sammy had already used the bracelet and it no longer worked. Maybe she knew, somehow, that the realm had been saved and she could chill out. In the end, the reason didn’t matter. Esther had vanished, along with any chance of Sammy ever returning to Perseopia.
It had been difficult to put her adventure behind her. She’d stopped visiting the bracelet down in the cellar and was on her way to assimilating back into an ordinary existence. Until around four months ago. She’d been in the cellar looking for a tennis ball and noticed a flash of green light coming from the golf bag.
The bracelet had been out several times since then.
Sammy had tried raising the dial’s hands at midnight but they wouldn’t budge. The emerald never pulsed green exactly on the stroke of midnight. Only ever a little while beforehand or sometime after. Never dead on.
Sammy switched off the cellar light and climbed the stairs back up to the kitchen. She sat at the table, placed the bracelet in front of her, and slumped over it, hands on her cheeks and elbows planted either side.
She couldn’t manipulate the emerald with her mental abilities. There wasn’t anything inside it to manipulate.
Sammy’s phone buzzed. She fished it out of her waistband, saw the message was from Wayne, so placed her phone face down on the table.
She stretched and got up. She filled the kettle at the sink, put it back on its base and flicked it on. The time on the microwave flashed to 23:58. Almost midnight. Sammy sat back down at the kitchen table.
How many times had she been down to the cellar to fetch out the bracelet? Too many. And always after an argument with her mother. She wasn’t sure why she kept trying to work the mechanism. Frustration with the status quo, she assumed. Only today she wasn’t frustrated, today she was calm. Nothing would change unless she took charge of her own future. She’d had enough of life with mum and Jerry. And her dad. What a joke that man was. She couldn’t believe how long it had taken her to see him for the bullying and abusive human waste he truly was.
Sammy absentmindedly clicked open and shut the locket at her throat. She wasn’t sure that going back to Perseopia was the change
she needed, but something compelled her to keep trying. Two years ago her reason had been Mehrak. She’d had a pretty big crush on him then, even though he’d been married. Silly. Nothing could’ve happened between them. She’d still like to see him again though, hang out in Golden Egg Cottage. Really though, it was the powers she’d developed that drew her back to Perseopia and the bracelet. She needed to find out who she was. What she was. Only the magi could answer that for her. And she had nothing left in Sheffield to stick around for.
The kettle began hissing as the water warmed up. Sammy leaned in close to the emerald on the bracelet. She concentrated her mind on the gem, imagining the atoms inside moving. Imagining swaying grass.
She sat back. It wasn’t going to happen, but she continued to watch the gem.
Then it flashed.
In that millisecond, Sammy saw a blade of grass inside the gem. And that was all she needed. She latched on to it, her mental feelers grabbing hold. She kept the blade inside the emerald going. The light remained and now it was getting brighter. More blades of grass appeared and she latched on to them too, swaying them faster.
Sammy leaned in further, placing her thumbs under the dial hands. They budged up a little, but not enough. They wouldn’t move any more. Why? What time was it? Had she missed midnight? She didn’t want to look away and lose sight of the grass.
The blades were moving relatively slowly. They’d moved faster last time she’d been in this situation. She gritted her teeth and pushed harder. She imagined the atoms in the grass thrown side to side. Rushing back and forth, getting faster, the light brightening.
The clock hands shifted up a little more.
The kettle began boiling, bubbling urgently behind her.
Sammy gritted her teeth, concentrating hard, swaying the blades ever faster. The light was dazzling, almost too bright to look into. She pushed harder still. The clock hands loosened. Her head was hurting, but she wasn’t about to stop.
The gem was humming. Burning ever brighter.
Sammy gave the clock hands one final push.
Both dial hands snapped to the top and green light engulfed the kitchen.
END OF FREE SAMPLE