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The Stranger In My Head

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                                  The Stranger in My Head

                                            By Will B Riley

Chapter 1

      “Mum, Dad, Angie’s gone crazy again.”

            The girl who bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen wore a smile of malicious glee. Her mother, who was draining spaghetti through a sieve, gave her a stern look.

            “How many times have you been told not to say that about your sister? It’s difficult enough for her as it is.”

            “But Mum, she’s hearing voices again.”

            “Noises, Sophie, noises. It’s called tin … um, tin …”

            “Tinnitus,” came the contribution from the next room where Mr Hope was watching the news on television. “Tinnitus, and the sooner she sees that hearing specialist the better.”

            Mrs Hope plopped the drained spaghetti back into the saucepan. “I made an appointment for her for this Friday. I hope they can do something. The poor girl can’t get any sleep. It’s no wonder her school work is falling behind.”

            “She can’t get any sleep?” Sophie yelled. “What about me? She wakes me up every single night with her crying and moaning.”

            Her father turned off the television, stood up and stretched. He joined the others in the kitchen “Ah, Sophie. You’re such a caring soul.”

            “Well, who cares about me?” Sophie tossed her long blonde hair. “It’s always Angie. Angie’s special medicine, Angie’s special doctors.”

            “Sophie, that’s not fair,” Mrs Hope said. “If you had a hearing problem you’d have special medicines too. Angie has to have these things so she can get better.”

            “Yeah, right. In the meantime I have to put up with her. Why can’t I have my own room?”

            Her father laughed. “Because this is a three-bedroom house. Maybe you think Angie should share your grandmother’s room. Anyway, here comes Angie so you can ask her yourself.”

            Sophie threw herself onto the sofa, deliberately ignoring her younger sister who had appeared at the entrance to the kitchen. Despite there being only a year between their ages the sisters were only superficially similar. At sixteen Sophie was slimmer and more conventionally pretty. Fifteen-year-old Angie’s face was rounder with soft eyes and baby lips, and framed by auburn curls. Her eyes were red and teary.   

            “Sophie’s right; I am going crazy.”

            “No you’re not, Love,” Mrs Hope said. “Don’t even think that. Lots of people suffer from noises in the head. Doctors know all about it.” 

            “Oh, Mum, you don’t understand. It’s different now.”

            Both parents saw the pain in her eyes. Mr Hope opened the cutlery drawer and began setting the table. He stopped and took his daughter’s hand in his own. “Darling, why do you say it’s different?”

            “Because they’re not just noises I hear any more. They’re voices now.”

#

    

“Angela Hope!”

            Mrs Lambert’s screech shattered Angie’s dream, a dream in which she’d been lounging on soft cushions in a gondola, being poled along the canals of Venice by a handsome gondolier. They had just floated under the Eiffel Tower, which even in her dream seemed strange, but no more strange than the Sydney Opera House they’d floated past earlier.

            She woke up to find her forehead almost touching the desk. The derisive laughter of her classmates reminded her of where she was, and the fact that Mrs Lambert had called her Angela told her she was in trouble. Nobody called her Angela otherwise.

            “When you’ve fully returned to this world, Angie, perhaps you’ll oblige us with your opinion.”

            Her opinion on what?  Angie’s mind was a total blank. What class was this? Slowly it came to her; if it was Mrs Lambert’s class this must be Modern History. Her blank look caused fresh ripples of laughter and the familiar low-voiced comments. ‘Angela Hopeless.’ ‘Angela Hope – class dope.’ Help came in the shape of a scribbled note, which appeared on her desk, slipped there behind his back by the boy in the desk in front of hers. The cute new boy all the girls talked about at recess. ‘Causes of World War One’, it said. Angie breathed a sigh of relief and thanks. With only a moment’s hesitation she stumbled through the answer, to Mrs Lambert’s satisfaction.

            When the bell rang Angie picked up her books and trooped towards the exit with the others. Just before she reached it she heard her name called and turned to see Mrs Lambert beckoning her over. Uh-oh, she thought, here comes another lecture about my inattentiveness. Mrs Lambert waited until the last student left then closed the door.

            “I’m sorry, Mrs …” Angie began. The teacher made a signal for silence and pointed to a seat, then squeezed her own bulky body into the seat next to her.

            “It’s all right, Angie. You’re not in trouble.” She waited until the girl was seated before continuing. “But I’m a little concerned about you. You see, I know why you’re tired all the time.”

            Angie’s eyes widened. The older woman laughed.

            “Nothing stays secret in this place for long. I hear students talking, but I also spoke to your mother. She tells me you’re seeing a doctor about your hearing problem.”

            Angie nodded. “On Friday.”

            “That’s tomorrow.”

            “Huh? Oh yeah.”  She really must be tired.

            “Well, I’m sure there are things they can do for tinnitus these days. My father suffered terribly from it so I have some understanding of what you’re going through. And you’ll be pleased to know I’ve spoken to your other teachers.”

            Oh great, Angie thought. Now the whole school will know I’m a weirdo. But she smiled and thanked her. Mrs Lambert was being kind, but what would she think if she knew about the voices?

            Most of the kids had left for home and the corridors were empty except for a few stragglers retrieving stuff from their lockers. As she unlocked her own a shadow fell over it. She turned and looked up to find to her dismay her biggest tormentor, Todd Norton, looming over her. Todd was her sister’s boyfriend, big and beefy, with stubbled blond hair and a permanent sneer. Lurking behind him and equally large were his bully mates, Kurt Miller and Jason Swindon.

            “Well, look who’s here, Angela Hopeless. Heard any strange voices recently?” 

            Yes, it had been a big mistake to mention the voices to Sophie. Now it would be all around the school. “Get lost, Todd.”

            He leaned closer instead, revelling in his ability to intimidate. Angie tried not to cringe but his closeness and his smell of sweat and leather disgusted her. Despite this Todd was not without a certain animal magnetism—-as Angie had once conceded to Sophie—-if only his manners were less pig-like. Before either could say anything further an arm stretched between them.

            “Do you mind if I get at my locker?”

            It was the new guy, Will Cassidy. Angie felt a flurry of emotions. Thrill; Will Cassidy had a locker next to hers! Confusion; cute guys always made her tongue-tied. Fear; Will Cassidy was about to get his head knocked off by Todd. Will inserted his key and opened his locker, forcing Todd to move aside. When he slung his backpack over his shoulder and closed the locker he turned to find Todd’s face an inch from his own.

            “You’re new here, Cassidy, so there’s a few things you’d better learn about me.”

            Angie bit her lip, expecting Todd to do something violent, but when the new boy returned his glare coolly without appearing in the least intimidated the bully seemed confused. Will was as tall as Todd though much less bulky. He shook his head.

            “I think I’ve already learned all I want to know about you, Norton.”

            The bully’s eyebrows rose in shock. Nobody talked back to Todd Norton. His nostrils flared and his shoulders stiffened. Angie tensed. This was it.

            “Hey! Norton, Swindon, Miller. We’re waiting for you three.”

            Angie could have kissed Mr Romero the football coach. When he called them a second time Todd and his two shadows turned and ran to him. Before turning the corridor Todd turned and gave Will the finger. When they had disappeared Angie found her voice.

            “Thanks.”

            Will turned and looked at her. “What for?”

             “For getting those creeps out of my hair.”

            He smiled. He had a lovely smile, the kind that made her want to smile too. His black hair and blue eyes made a devastating combination too.

            “Forget it. Don’t let them worry you.”

            “It’s you who should be worried. Those guys don’t forgive.”

            “I’m not afraid of Norton and his bovine mates.”

            Angie made a mental note to look up ‘bovine’. They walked side by side to the school doors without speaking. Outside Angie found her voice again.

            “And thanks for the help in Mrs Lambert’s class.”

            He shrugged. “That’s ok. Maybe you can help me sometime. I suck at English grammar and you seem pretty good at it.” He paused. “You’re Angie, right?”

            Oh wow. He’d noticed her. He even knew her name. “Yes. And you’re, um … Will?”  As if she didn’t know.

            “Yeah. Where do you live, Angie?”

             “Lidcombe.”

            “Oh yeah? I live in the other direction. So, see you tomorrow.”

            “Yes. Oh …no, I have the day off school. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.” What did she say that for? Now he’ll ask what’s wrong with her. But he didn’t.

            “Ok. See you Monday then. Enjoy your weekend.”

Then he was gone. Striding off and out of her life. Until Monday. Angie had to stop herself from skipping like a little girl as she walked home. She knew it was stupid of her to fantasise that someone as adorable as Will Cassidy was interested in her but it was a lovely fantasy all the same, and at least he hadn’t joined in the ridicule and name-calling in class. By the time she reached home she’d calmed down a little. How silly of her to be disappointed that he didn’t live near her so they could walk to school and back together. Besides, once he got to know her better he’d be sure to stay out of her way. Who wanted to be friends with a loony who heard voices?

Chapter 2

Doctor Ling put down the otoscope with which he’d been inspecting Angie’s ear, leaned back and folded his hands.

“Well, Angie, there appears to me nothing wrong with your hearing. It’s excellent. Hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus but it happens mostly to older people, and to more men than women. So, I have to look for some other cause. What you have is called subjective tinnitus, meaning only you can hear it. If I could hear it with my instruments, and I can’t, it would be objective tinnitus.”

More evidence that I’m crazy, Angie thought. And of course you can’t hear it you silly man because it isn’t there at the moment. Doctor Ling continued speaking, more to Angie’s mother than to his patient.

“Objective tinnitus would be easier to diagnose. Pulsing sounds, for instance, could be related to blood flow, clicking sounds to jaw misalignment, but since only Angie can hear it we can rule that out. Do you get dizziness when it happens, Angie, or nausea?”

Angie shook her head.

“Good,” the doctor said, “then I think we can forget Meniere’s disease. Another one I believe we can rule out is a brain tumour. I’d be worried about that if you were hearing the noises in one ear only.”

Mrs Hope breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad to hear that, Doctor. What other causes are there?”

“Well, one current theory is that because the cochlear isn’t sending normal signals to it the brain develops its own noises to make up the lack.” He turned back to Angie. “Tell me again what the noises are like. Sufferers have reported ringing, swishing, roaring, buzzing, and the noises crickets make. Do any of those sound familiar?”

Angie considered those but not for long. “No, it’s a bit like radio static.”

Doctor Ling wrote that down in his notes then picked up a prescription order pad.

“Sometimes,” Mrs Hope added, “she says it sounds like voices.”

Oh thanks, Mum, Angie thought. Now he knows it too. But on reflection it felt better that it was out in the open. Doctor Ling raised one eyebrow but said nothing. Angie’s mother, who was seated on the very edge of her chair, twisted her fingers around each other, something she did when nervous. Mrs Hope held doctors in god-like reverence.

“Can’t you do something for her, Doctor? The noises are driving her mad.” A poor choice of words in the circumstances, Angie thought, but Mrs Hope didn’t notice the connection.

“Well, I’ll need her full medical history, then I want to send her for some tests. We’ve done the audiogram and that was fine, so next I’ll arrange an examination of her head, neck and nerves. Also either a brain scan or MRI . That’s magnetic resonance imaging, another kind of scan,” he added when he saw their perplexed looks.” He wrote something on a pad. Angie wanted to ask more questions but her mother spoke first.

“What can she take in the meantime, Doctor, so she can get some peace?”

“She can take these if it becomes extreme.” He handed Mrs Hope a prescription. “And avoid caffeine. Also I recommend a course in relaxation.”

And that was it. At least he hadn’t sent for the men in white coats, but that odd look he’d given Angie when her mother mentioned the voices probably meant he’d considered it. After writing out referrals for the tests he dismissed them.

 

#

 

On the way home Mrs Hope stopped at the local shops to buy ingredients for a recipe she’d seen on Masterchef. Angie, who had little interest in cooking or cooking shows, walked the rest of the way. It was a pleasant Australian summer afternoon and for the moment her head was not plagued by noises. As she strolled along the empty streets her mind drifted among assorted daydreams, about exotic cities she might one day visit, or about imaginary conversations in which she always had the perfect rejoinder instead of thinking of it afterwards. Some of her daydreams involved a certain new boy at school. On the last street before her own her daydreams were shattered.

Help! Help!

Angie’s eyes grew wide. It wasn’t just voice-like noises in her head this time. She’d heard actual words.

 

 

Chapter 3

“Shut up! Shut up! Go away!”

Angie pressed her hands to her ears and shook her head as if that would dislodge whatever was inside. There was no longer any doubt in her mind now that she was crazy; she had even answered. To her relief the noise subsided again but there still seemed to be words in it. Her hands still over her ears she continued walking. Before she had taken a dozen steps the voice came back, stronger than ever, a male voice.

Hello! Hello! Who’s that? Can you hear me? Answer me, damn you. I know you’re there. I heard you.

“Shut up!” Angie’s own voice was a squeal. “I don’t want you in my head. Get lost!”

The voice faded, then came back, like a faulty radio. “… not in your stupid head. I don’t know where I am. I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything except you. A pause, then, Wait, wait. You’re hearing me inside your head?

Yes, and I don’t want to. Go away, please, please.” She broke down in sobs then, not caring if anyone saw her.

No, no. Don’t shut me out. Listen, can you see me?

“Of course I can’t see you. You’re not real. You’re a voice in my head, that’s all. You’re just my imagination. I’m insane.”

Oh, I’m real all right. What’s that saying of Descartes’? ‘I think, therefore I am’? And I’m thinking, therefore I’m real. Ok, so …let me really think …You can’t see me but you can hear me in your head. But I’m not talking. At least I don’t think I am. I’m thinking. That means … oh this is weird. You’re picking up my thoughts? Like a short-wave radio set?

More confused and frightened than ever Angie nevertheless felt a twinge of hope. What if reading other people’s thoughts really was possible? She was a psychic, that’s what she was, a psychic. Not a lunatic after all. Maybe. “Yes, like a radio. But they said I had tinnitus.”

Yeah, ok. Never mind that for the moment. Where are you?

“Walking down the street.”

Where? What place?

“East Street. Lidcombe.”

Another pause. Aah, that almost rang a bell. But no, didn’t help. Listen, what’s your name?

Angie. What’s yours?” Omigod, I’m asking a voice in my head its name. That’s crazy.

I don’t know my name. I don’t know anything. Call me …‘Voice in the head’ if you like. But listen, Angie, this is very important. I want you to do something for me.

“What?”

I want you to turn around slowly.

Angie spun around instead but there was no-one there. “Why?”

I want you to tell me if you hear my voice more clearly from a particular direction.

Angie looked around her. East Street was empty. No-one would see her doing something as dumb as turning in a circle slowly. So, with The Voice still talking, she did.

“Yes, your voice comes in clearer from the direction I’m facing now.”

Great. If you head that way you should find me eventually. What can you see in that direction?

The blood had already drained from Angie’s face before The Voice had finished speaking.

A chill skittered up her spine and her neck hairs stood on end. What she could see in that direction, on the other side of the street, was the high, wrought-iron gate of Rookwood Cemetery.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

She stared open-mouthed at the yawning gates, gates she passed every day of her life. Impressive as they were they were so familiar she rarely noticed them. Now they might have been the gates of Hell.

Hello. Angie? Are you still there?

She jumped at the sound in her head. Did this mean she was talking to a ghost? Her already vivid imagination went into overdrive. Stories of ghosts, zombies, vampires and other such horrors were among her favourite reading matter but it had been a long time since she actually believed they existed.

“Y … yes,” she gulped.

Are you following my voice like I asked?

She gulped again, and nodded, then remembered that a voice had no eyes and could not see her nod. She answered yes, although she wasn’t following it. Instead she was rooted to the spot. She looked around her, hoping for a familiar face, or any face, but the street was empty. Behind her the houses in their neat gardens were as lifeless as the cemetery. No-one tended a front garden. No-one sunned themselves on a verandah. At the end of the street cars passed on the main road, and beyond them a train pulled out of Lidcombe station bound for Sydney’s city centre. She was alone with a ghostly voice that wanted her to walk through one of the biggest cemeteries in the world. Taking a deep breath she crossed the road.

The ornate gates seemed larger than she remembered, or maybe she just felt smaller than usual. Walking through them took an effort of will, and once inside the cemetery Angie had the strangest feeling that she’d just been swallowed, as if the cemetery was some huge monster that had lain in wait for her. She half-expected the gates to slam shut behind her like they might in a horror movie.

After a few metres the entrance drive split in two directions but The Voice still came from straight ahead. Angie took the right fork, knowing either way would curve towards the centre of the cemetery where the offices and the various chapels were located, and where she was more likely to encounter real live humans. For those familiar with Rookwood its three square kilometres could be useful as a shortcut to Lidcombe railway station. Others making the attempt might wander its circuitous paths for hours and end up being locked in if they failed to find a gate before closing time. That was no problem for Angie who, like most of the local kids had known every missing railing in the fence for years.

Still there, Angie?

The voice made her jump. “Yes,” she said. She was about fifty metres inside the cemetery.

Good. Don’t give up on me, will you? You’re all I have.

The Voice was beginning to sound scared and desperate. Angie promised not to give up, although giving up and running home was the thing she most wanted to do. She tried to stick to the paths but the direction from which The Voice came obliged her to walk sometimes across green lawn thick with grave sites. The older sections were the worst, the creepy parts she and her friends avoided, with their crumbling tombstones and mossy statues.

In her imagination the dead people beneath her feet heard her footsteps and waited their opportunity to reach up out of the ground and grasp her ankles with their skeletal hands. Scenes from horror movies played in her head. The Night of the Living Dead, Creepshow, Dracula. And since she appeared to be the only person in the cemetery no-one would hear her scream as she was dragged under the earth.

Was The Voice one of them, luring her on, waiting to grab her? Or—-and this was worse—-was he someone who had been buried alive? The Voice himself didn’t appear to suspect it, which was perhaps for the best. For Angie, who was often subject to slight claustrophobia, the concept of premature burial was too horrific to contemplate. Yet if it was the case in this instance it was even more important that she should overcome her fears and try to locate the place he was buried, then alert the authorities.

She kept walking. The Voice continued at intervals, sometimes fading to almost nothing so that Angie wasn’t sure he was speaking at all, then returning in mid-sentence as clear as a bell. It led her now towards the Rose Garden section, an area made pretty by arbours and flower-covered trellises. If this was where The Voice was then she was definitely talking to a ghost and not someone buried alive because the only memorials here were brass plaques set in the walls or the edges of the path. In other words, not bodies but ashes. Next she found herself out the other side and approaching the chapel building. Was he there? Lying in his coffin waiting for his funeral to begin? If he was above ground it would be easier to rescue him. Or was he in the crematorium behind the chapel, waiting for … Omigod! Don’t let me be too late! Angie broke into a run.

But to her relief The Voice came from beyond the chapel, beyond the crematorium, and still from the East. She slowed down again. Now it led her across a wide expanse of bare ground and towards the eastern exit. There were few tombs there, half-concealed among a copse of straggly trees, The graves were old and neglected and leaning over, as if no-one, not even the cemetery gardeners, came here. The Voice, which had been fading, came on stronger than ever.

….. happening, Angie? What can you see? Any sign of me yet?

Goosebumps erupted on Angie’s skin. She stared at the big tomb directly in front of her. A stone rectangle, it stood inside its own low, rusted iron fence. It was covered in moss and had deteriorated to the extent that one end had collapsed in upon itself, leaving an irregular gaping hole in the lid some six inches across. This had to be it. There were no more graves between this one and the cemetery boundary. But whatever was inside had clearly not been laid there recently. She forced down her fear and slowly approached so that she could see the weather-worn inscription on the top of the broken stone slab. Most of it was indecipherable but with difficulty she made out some letters and numerals.

Alb--- -----1921

So it seemed the owner of The Voice had died almost a century ago. That meant any thought of rescue was gone. The body in this tomb would be nothing more than bones, which meant there was no doubt now that she had been conversing with a ghost.

You still hearing me, Angie? Have you found me yet?

Angie gulped. She ran her tongue across her dry lips and tried to think of a reply.

Well?

“Um … I could have. Er … your name wouldn’t be Albert, would it?”

Can’t say it sounds the least bit familiar. But who knows? Might be. Why? What have you found?

“Er …um … you’re not going to like this.”

As if hypnotised Angie stepped over the low fence. She moved in closer to the broken top slab so she could look down into the hole. From the darkness inside the tomb two green eyes looked up at her.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Angie screamed and catapulted herself backwards. The black cat leapt out of the hole and sped away to hide among the long grass and bushes.

It took all of twenty seconds before Angie let out another breath. She gulped, and clutched at her heart which seemed to want to escape her chest. There was a funny side to this but for the moment it was submerged beneath a flurry of other emotions; shock, relief, and the fleeting thought, which she immediately rejected as ludicrous, that the cat itself was The Voice. Following that was the thought that talking to a cat was no more ludicrous than talking to a dead person. Once her heart had slowed its thumping and her shattered nerves had reconnected she became aware that The Voice was urgently demanding her attention.

What was that!? I heard you scream. Angie? For God’s sake, Angie, answer me. What happened!?

“Nothing,” Angie said. “I …er … saw a cat. That’s all.”

Oh, thank God. You scared the shit out of me. Angie, be careful. I don’t want anything to happen to you. Sorry, it’s not about you. I’m being selfish, but you’re all I’ve got. Do you understand, Angie? You’re all I’ve got.

Since the image Angie had formed of the owner of the voice was of an attractive young guy she couldn’t help feeling just a little disappointed that it wasn’t about her.

Ok, what now, Angie? What can you see?

“Nothing. I mean … just streets. Your voice is still coming from the same direction.”

Good. Keep following my …

Then nothing. The Voice stopped in mid sentence. Like when her mobile phone cut off when it lost the signal. She waited, half-hoping it had stopped forever and half-anxious in case it had.

“Hello.” Ten seconds later she tried again. “Hello, um .. .Voice?”

Angie looked around. She was in the oldest and loneliest part of the cemetery, alone, and the sky was getting darker. She had followed a disembodied voice to this spot. Had she been lured here? Was she in danger? The eastern exit was only a hundred metres away with suburban streets beyond that, but the place where she stood was out of sight of anyone even that close. In her imagination the trees and bushes near her took on a sinister air. She could hear cars passing not far away but the occupants would be unlikely to hear her if she should scream.

She pulled her scattered wits together. There was nothing among the trees, nobody about to spring out of a grave. No, the scary thing was not that she’d been talking to a voice. The scary thing was that she’d been talking to herself. There was no voice and never had been, outside of her damaged brain.

After thoroughly frightening herself she considered leaving the cemetery by the east gate and returning home through the surrounding streets, a much longer Journey but at least she’d be outside the cemetery. Instead she took the shorter route and hurried back the way she had come, worrying that it would become totally dark before she reached the west gate. She might even be locked in. What if the familiar bent and missing railings had all been fixed? Her fears proved unfounded. There was still enough daylight left that at a hundred metres from the gates she could see they were still open. Nor did they slowly close as she approached. No ghoul or zombie barred her way.

 

 

Chapter 6

The only family member at home when Angie returned was her sister, and she had company. The two on the couch sprang apart as Angie entered the living room. Sophie squealed.

“Sheesh! Angie! Don’t do that! I thought you were Dad.”

The look on her sister’s face told Angie that whatever it was she and Todd had been up to had not been entirely innocent.

“So, what if it had been Dad? You weren’t doing anything you shouldn’t, were you?”

Her answer from Sophie was a snarly face and rolled eyes. Todd leaned back against the couch as if he owned the place, a smirk on his lips. He put his hands behind his head, then slowly slid an arm around Sophie as if he owned her too.

Back in her bedroom Angie marvelled at the fact Sophie never blushed. If she herself had been sprung in some similar position her face would have shouted her guilt or embarrassment to the world by glowing hot scarlet. She threw herself on her bed and went over what had happened to her in the last hours. It had to be all in her mind surely. Sane people didn’t hear voices in their heads. Which meant she was insane. Which meant she would never be able to lead a normal life like her friends. She’d end up in some secure unit in a special facility as her insanity progressed. Family members would visit her on weekends and sit with her and give her news of the outside world. Her friends would sometimes visit and talk and pretend everything was normal. Then after a while they’d find her increasingly odd and their visits would become fewer, then stop altogether. White-coated staff and fellow inmates as odd as herself would be her only company.

Was there a cure for insanity? She’d watched medical dramas on television in which doctors had performed surgical miracles, but there were none she remembered where they cured an insane person. It wasn’t fair. Why should others have healthy minds while hers was turning to slush? Tears welled in her eyes so that the room became blurry. She let the tears flow and gave herself up to self pity. Sobs choked her until she was forced to search her bedside drawer for tissues. What she really wanted was for someone to hold her and comfort her like her mum and dad used to do when she was little.

She sat up on her bed and dried her eyes and made an effort to pull herself together. She wasn’t a little girl any more so what was the use in feeling sorry for herself and expecting somebody else to fix her problems? Besides, if she was going insane it wasn’t the end of the world. There were such things as psychiatrists, and who knew what kind of new treatments had been discovered and would still be discovered? What’s more, she said to herself, it was entirely possible the voice might stop of its own accord. Might already have stopped, never to return. The cut-off in the cemetery had been abrupt. And if it should return? Next time she would simply ignore it. Refuse to acknowledge its existence until it gave up and went away. That decision made she began to feel a little better about life. Even more so when she heard the sound of her father’s car as tyres crunched the gravel of the carport.

Maybe if she were to fully confide in her parents they would understand. When she was small it seemed all she had to do was tell them what was wrong and they would make everything better. Now that she was fifteen she rarely revealed her real feelings to them. She was glad she had a loving family with a mother and father who liked each other and were sometimes fun to be with, unlike her friend Brooke’s parents who rarely spent any time together. But her own parents seemed so old-fashioned. They didn’t like the same music as she did, or the same movies. On television they watched British police series or the cricket or tennis. They had little understanding of her world and they had dull public service jobs, Mum in the Customs Department, Dad in Traffic Administration. Brooke’s parents at least had exciting jobs in Media? No, Angie decided, I love my parents but they can’t help me and I’m not about to discuss my problems with them. She went out to meet her father anyway.

“Hi Dad. Nice day at work?’

“Hi Sweetheart.” He dropped his briefcase in the cubby hole he called his office. “Oh, dull as ever. How about you? Learn anything at school?”

“Not really. Learn anything at work?”

“Nah, waste of time going to school or work then, isn’t it. Let’s drop out.” It had become their daily ritual. “How did your hearing test go?”

Best not to mention The Voice maybe. “The doc said there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. It’s definitely tinnitus. He wants to do more tests but I forgot what they are. Ask Mum, she’ll remember.”

“Well I’m relieved. At least we know for sure what it is now and can start to deal with it. There are worse things it could have been than tinnitus.”

How true, Angie thought.

Sophie and Todd, having heard them speaking, were sitting apart on the lounge when Angie and her father entered. Sophie grunted in reply to her father’s greeting but Todd was obsequiously polite, as he always was to Mr and Mrs Hope.

“Good afternoon, Mr Hope. I hope you had a nice day at the office.”

Angie cringed at the fake sincerity. Her father didn’t appear to notice it.

“I had a tolerable day, thank you, Todd.”

But Angie, following him through to the kitchen, giggled as she heard him mutter under his breath, “Dickhead.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Mr Slattery, the mathematics teacher, completed chalking the equation on the blackboard and turned to face the class. He was short and solid with a bald, bullet-shaped head and no neck.

“Now who shall we get to answer this one for us?

He made a show of searching the faces before him, then settled on Angie. He strolled towards her.

“Ah yes, let’s see if Joan has the answer.”

There were a couple of titters as one or two students grasped what he was doing. Angie looked at him blankly, wondering why he was looking at her when he was asking someone called Joan. She even turned in her seat to look behind her to see if a new girl had joined the class, but when Mr Slattery beckoned her out she stood up and followed him to the blackboard.

“Right, Joan can you solve this equation for us?”

“I’m Angie.”

He made a pained face and slapped his forehead. “Angie! Of course. Whatever made me call you Joan, I wonder?”

More laughter as more students caught on, and those who hadn’t were enlightened by their neighbours. Then Angie herself realised and blushed with embarrassment and anger. How could he make fun of her in front of the whole class? Who had told him about The Voice? But Mr Slattery wasn’t finished yet. He had an appreciative audience and was going to milk it for all it was worth.

“I guess the famous Joan of Arc came to mind for some reason.”

More laughter, louder now. A voice rang out from the back of the class.

“Saint Joan heard voices, didn’t she, Sir?”

Angie felt her face redden more fiercely as even louder laughter greeted the comment. She bit her lip but said nothing, afraid her voice would break. Meekly she took the chalk that Mr Slattery proffered. She turned to face the blackboard, more to hide her glowing face from her classmates than to attempt the equation. The attempt would have been a waste of time anyway since the tears that welled up blurred the blackboard figures to formless blobs.

“Come now, Angie, you can do it. Perhaps you can call upon your voices for the answer.”

It was too much. She wasn’t going to take it any more. She spun around and flung the chalk hard into the maths teacher’s chest and ran for the door. The laughter changed to shocked gasps. Now it was Mr Slattery’s turn to become red-faced. His grin vanished. His eyes bulged.

“Come back here. Now!”

But Angie was gone. Mr Slattery looked about to explode. The class became silent. His temper was notorious. After a whole minute of clenching and unclenching his fists he managed to take control of his emotions to some degree. He bent and picked up the chalk.

“Miss Hope I shall deal with later. You, Cassidy, get out here.”

Will Cassidy stood up immediately and strode forward. He snatched the chalk from the teacher’s hand and with a few quick strokes solved the equation. As he turned and strode away he tossed the chalk over his shoulder so that the teacher had to fumble to catch it.

“Hey! I didn’t say you could go back to your desk.”

But he wasn’t heading for his desk. As Will neared the door Mr Slattery gaped in disbelief. “Cassidy! Get back here right now. Where do you think you’re going?”

At the door Will stopped and turned, so that for a moment it looked as if he was about to obey. He looked at the teacher with disdain. “I think it’s time someone reported you to the headmaster.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

Somehow Angie made it across the school yard and into the girls’ change room before the tears erupted. Once she was inside and had checked the cubicles to make sure she was alone the floodgates opened, and for a full five minutes, shoulders heaving, she gave in to great big sobs. Gradually she managed to pull herself together. She dried her eyes and cheeks with a paper towel, the occasional sniff the only outward sign of her distress.

“Are you ok, Angie?”

She spun around. She hadn’t heard the door open. The bigger shock was not that a boy was in this place but who that boy was.

“Will? You … you shouldn’t be in here. This is the girls’ change room.”

Will Cassidy leaned back against the row of sinks. “I saw you from the corridor window when you ran across the school yard, so I knew where to find you.”

Angie turned away and wiped her eyes and face again on the paper towel. Oh great, she thought. It’s not enough that he knows I’m a weirdo who hears voices. Now he gets to see me with red eyes, wet cheeks and a runny nose. Can things get any worse?

“Slatts shouldn’t be allowed to get away with hurting people, Angie. I walked out on him too. Told him I was going to report him to Mr Phillips.”

A sudden thrill shot through her. He’d done what? Walked out on Mr Slattery of all people? For her? Angie kept facing away from him in case her face displayed her feelings. In case Will Cassidy realised that he had just become her superhero, her knight in shining armour. When she thought she had her emotions under control she turned to him.

“You shouldn’t have done that. I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

“Doesn’t worry me. Slatts deserves to be taken down a bit. Otherwise he won’t change.”

“Please don’t report him.”

“Why not?

“I don’t know. He’ll … he’ll take it out on me. Or you.” She turned to the mirror. Her eyes were still puffy and red. “He’s such a creep. He’ll probably fail us both at the exams just for spite.”

“All the more reason to report him.”

They were interrupted by the sound of voices and running footsteps. A moment later the door was flung open and three girls burst in, colliding with each other in their haste. They stopped, mouths open, when they saw Will. This was not a place where they expected to see a boy, and though eager to talk to Angie they remained momentarily tongue-tied. Will grinned at them as he made for the door.

“Catch you later, Angie.”

“Will, don’t do it. Please.”

He shrugged. “Ok. I still think we should though.”

He left then and the three girls talked over each other like chattering sparrows.

“Don’t do what?”

“Why was he in here?”

“What did he want, Angie?”

“Are you crying?

“That Slattery! Will Cassidy said he’s going to report him.”

“So he should.”

Brunette Brooke, blonde pony-tailed Ashley and pretty, black-haired Cindy. Friends of Angie. Drawn to each other because none of them fitted into any of the recognised tribes. Or, as they themselves claimed, because of their mutual oddness. Not glamorous enough for the Alpha Girls, too introverted for the Drama Queens, not clever enough for the Geeks, too uncoordinated for the Athletes and not weird enough for the Goths.

“Shut up, you two. Let Angie talk,” Brooke ordered, although she herself had been the noisiest. “Are you all right, Ange? What did Will Cassidy want?”

Angie shook her head and waved her hand to ward off more questions. “Nothing. He thought I was upset, that’s all.”

“Well, you were. Slatts made you cry.”

“No he didn’t, not really. I was angry. He humiliated me in front of everybody. I hate him.”

“We all do,” Cindy said. “I hope Will Cassidy reports him like he said he would.”

Tears dried, Angie tossed the damp paper towel in the waste basket. “I asked him not to.”

“Why’d you do that?” Ashley cried.

“Yes,” interrupted Brooke. “We all think you should report him even if Will doesn’t do it.”

Angie waved her hands around again and headed for the door with her three advisors clinging to her. “Forget it. He’d only make my life more miserable. You know what he’s like.”

“Well at least let Slatts think he’s been reported,” Ashley said. “Then he’ll worry.”

Once outside Cindy turned to Angie. “Anyway, it isn’t just you who gets called names. We all have to put up with it. Do you think I like being called ‘Midget’ because I’m only four-foot-ten? Or Cinderella?

“But Cinderella’s your real name,” Brooke said.

“So? I don’t have to like it, do I? And I’ve told you before, it’s not my birth certificate name anyway.” Cindy was forever explaining how her Chinese parents had chosen the Anglicised name because the English letters corresponded to Chinese lucky numbers.

“It’s better than being called ‘Olive Oyl’,” the ultra-slim Ashley muttered.

“I’ll swap places with you,” Brooke said. “You can be ‘Tits’ for a change.” Brooke had been the first in her group to need a bra, much to her embarrassment at the time.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

“What is it like, this voice?” Brooke asked as the train came to a stop in front of them. “Is it a man’s or a woman’s?”

The four girls found an almost empty carriage and reversed a seat so they could face each other. The Saturday trip to a movie in the city had been Ashley’s idea.

“A man’s voice,” Angie said. She had decided to share her problem with her three closest friends. Now she wondered if that had been a mistake. The Voice had been silent for several days and she was hopeful it had gone forever.

“Is it, like, a real man’s?” Cindy, sitting opposite, was leaning forward, her pretty mouth open. “I mean, like, a grown-ups’ voice?”

Angie nodded.

“How old? Cindy persisted. “A young man or an old man?”

Angie thought for a moment. “Not old, but not real young either. About thirty maybe.”

“A nice voice or a nasty one?”

“Nice. Sort of sexy.”

Cindy gave a squeal and fluttered her hands. The others gave her pitying stares.

“It’s all in your imagination, Angie,” Ashley said helpfully.

“Don’t say that to her,” Brooke said. “She already thinks she’s going crazy.”

“Well if she’s hearing voices there has to be something wrong with her brain, hasn’t there?”

“Not necessarily.” Brooke had a cousin with a bipolar disorder so felt fully qualified to discuss mental problems. “My cousin Patrick hears voices sometimes, and I’ve heard about people who pick up radio signals through their metal teeth fillings.” She turned to Angie. “Maybe that’s it.”

“Or telepathy,” Cindy offered.

Beside her Ashley snorted. “Telepathy! You’d believe in anything, Cindy. ”

“Would not”, Cindy retorted.

“You read your horoscope every day.”

Cindy was saved from defending her beliefs by Brooke. “What if Cindy’s right? Telepathy might be possible.”

“Oh, you’re as bad as she is.” Ashley turned to Angie. “It doesn’t feel like telepathy, like thoughts, does it, Angie?”

Angie shook her head. “Like I just said, it’s a man’s voice and it talks to me. It wants me to find it. I mean, find him.”

“That’s easy,” Ashley laughed. “Tell him you already know where he is. He’s inside your head.”

“Maybe it’s a ghost,” Cindy offered. The withering look from Ashley made her back off. Brooke leaned forward, hands out to demand a hearing. “It’s schizophrenia. My cousin has it. Do your voices tell you to do bad things, Angie, like Patrick’s do?”

Ashley and Cindy became very interested in what kind of bad things Cousin Patrick did but Brooke didn’t enlighten them.

“No,” Angie said. “He just wants me to follow him.”

“Follow him?” Brooke said. “How can you follow a voice in your head?”

“It’s clearer when I face a certain direction.” Angie related her cemetery experience, including her fright from the cat in the tomb. The girls were fascinated. “But I haven’t heard The Voice since Wednesday. Maybe it’s gone for good.”

 

#

 

By the time the train arrived at Central the subject had changed to more immediate things, the movie they had come to see, whether they’d have enough time to window shop, and the likelihood of meeting persons of interest, meaning boys. They discussed these prospects excitedly as they made their way up George Street towards the cinema. It was Cindy who noticed they were missing one of their group.

“Where did Angie go?”

The others turned around. The street thronged with people hurrying or strolling by. None of those in sight was Angie.

“She’ll catch up,” Ashley said. She knows where the cinema is.”

A minute later Angie was still missing.

“I’ll see what’s keeping her,” Brooke said. “She’s probably still looking at those shoes she liked.”

She found Angie crouched in a shop doorway. She was holding her head.

“Angie, what’s wrong?”

Angie shook her head but didn’t reply. Her eyes and mouth were shut tight as if in pain.

“A headache?” Brooke asked.

Another shake of the head.

“Oh, no, don’t tell me. That voice has come back.”

Angie nodded. Brooke, greatly concerned for her friend, held her hands over Angie’s which were still clamped to her ears. “Go away, Voice!” she shouted, glaring into her friend’s face. “Leave Angie alone!” She didn’t expect it to have any effect but she didn’t know what else to do. Sympathetic tears filled her own eyes as she watched Angie’s suffering.

“He can’t hear you,” Angie moaned. “He can only hear me.”

Ashley and Cindy appeared out of the passing crowd.

“What’s keeping you?” Ashley demanded.

“Angie’s voice has come back.” Brooke placed a comforting arm around her best friend.

“Oh, great,” Ashley groaned. “Well, ignore it, Angie. That’s what you said you were going to do next time it happened. And hurry up or we’ll be late.”

Cindy looked at her watch. “Ashley’s right. The movie starts in ten minutes.”

Angie, half-carried by Brooke, followed Ashley and Cindy. She stopped abruptly after a few steps.

“I can’t.”

Ashley threw up her hands in despair and turned aggressively. “Why not?”

“He wants me to follow him.”

“To where, deeper inside your head? Come on, Cindy. They can be late if they want. We’re going.”

As Ashley dragged her away Cindy half-turned and looked back at the others, unsure if she should leave, but Ashley was forceful and they were soon lost among the mass of people.

Brooke watched her friend with deep concern. “Is it still there?”

Angie nodded, her face still screwed up, her hands still at her temples.

“But Ange, how can you follow him? Where does he want you to go?”

Angie turned to one side, removed one hand from her head, and pointed to what she knew must be the East. “There,” she said.

 

 

Chapter 10

Where are we now?

Looking out of the bus window Angie reeled off the names of the unfamiliar streets and suburbs as they passed roadside signs. They were equally unfamiliar to The Voice. The bus had been Brooke’s idea. After walking two hundred metres she’d demanded how much further they were likely to go. When Angie explained that she had no idea and that The Voice had always come from an easterly direction, Brooke, who never walked anywhere if there was a possibility of riding, decided she’d had enough and jumped on the first bus going that way.

Angie! Something’s happening! The Voice was excited, startling Angie.

“What?”

Sort of dull flashes. Comes and goes. Yes, yes ,yes! Angie, it’s light and shade. I’m experiencing light and shade. Is that sight? Or something else? Angie, listen, what are you doing right now?

“Looking out of the bus window, at buildings and stuff.”

That’s it. That’s what I’m getting, darker when you look at buildings, lighter when you pass the spaces between. Angie, I’m seeing through your eyes!

“You’re joking.”

No, I’m sure that’s what it is. It’s only vague but it’s getting clearer the more I concentrate. Keep looking. Keep looking.

Angie kept looking. “This is so weird,” she muttered.

“What is?” Brooke inquired. She had been watching and listening to her friend, and becoming more and more worried about her as the journey continued.

“He says he can see through my eyes.”

“Eewww! Gross! You’re right, this is getting weirder and weirder.”

“No weirder than talking to someone inside my head.” Angie was becoming more and more accepting of her condition by the day.

When I really concentrate I can see things close up quite clearly. Not perfect but getting there. That’s the ledge on the bus window you’re looking at, right? And that’s the seat in front of you. Turn around. Look at something else.

Angie turned to the side.

Who’s that?

“Who?”

Someone’s sitting next to you, right?

“Yes. That’s Brooke.”

It’s coming into focus. Yes, that’s fairly clear now. Mm, nice looking kid. Is she yours?

“My what?”

Your daughter.

“What!? For God’s sake. I’m only fifteen!”

There was a long pause. Then… Oh God, please don’t let that be true. You mean I’m relying on a bloody kid for everything?

“Well I’m very sorry. Maybe if you went inside someone else’s head you could do better.” Her tone was angry, resentful and sarcastic. After all the trouble she’d gone to for The Voice all he could do was insult her by demeaning her efforts.

Ok, ok, calm down, Angie. I’m sorry. Really. It’s just that I thought you were older, an adult, someone with the authority to get things done. You know, talk to the right people, that sort of thing.

“I’m doing what you wanted. I don’t know what else I can do.” Her lips were a sulky pout.

I know. And you’ve been doing a great job. And now that I can see… oh Angie, you don’t know what a difference this makes. Maybe I’ll see something I recognise, something that’ll jog my memory. Who knows? If I can see through your eyes maybe I could hear what you’re hearing too. Don’t give up on me, Angie, will you? Keep following the direction of my voice.

“Ok.”

Promise me, Angie. Like I said before, you’re all I’ve got. You’re my only hope.

“Ok, ok, I promise. Stop panicking.”

Good girl. You’ve …

As it had so many times before The Voice cut off abruptly. Angie turned her head in different directions to try to pick it up again but it was no use.

“It’s gone,” she said.

Brooke had been staring at her friend and listening to what she heard as a one way conversation for some time, her mouth open, brow furrowed in disbelief and worry.

“Angie, it sounded just like you were talking to a real person.”

“Well that’s what The Voice sounds like, a real person, just like I’m talking to you now. Are you finally starting to believe me?”

Brooke pulled a strained face. She desperately wanted to help, but saying she believed The Voice was real might make things worse rather than better.

“I didn’t say that exactly. Maybe it’s real, maybe not, but it’s certainly real to you. Anyway, I’m kind of sorry it stopped just now because I just thought of something. You say it always comes from the East. Well, I know that we’re only a couple of suburbs from the coast, so if it’s still coming from the East when we reach Bondi Beach you won’t be able to follow it any more because there’ll be an ocean in the way. So either you’ll have to take a trip overseas or accept The Voice is just in your head.”

But Angie had stood up and was facing the back of the bus, an exultant gleam in her eye.

“No I won’t.” She pressed the stop button. “Come on, Brooke. This is where we get off.”

Brooke followed her to the bus door. “Why?”

As the bus slowed to a stop Angie explained. “Because just before The Voice cut off, the direction it came from changed. Instead of coming from ahead of the bus like it had all the time, it started to come from behind it. I’ve found him, Brooke. He’s just a few streets back. I’ve found him!”

#

 

They hadn’t walked back very far before Angie realised that although she felt she had isolated the approximate vicinity of The Voice, had narrowed the search to a few streets, she was still a long way from discovering its exact location. For the next half hour they walked the streets in the area she felt was closest to the point where The Voice’s direction had changed. She turned her head from side to side constantly, casting for the now familiar sound, but it was no use. The buildings on the main road and the surrounding streets were mostly businesses of various kinds, and one large building which proved to be a hospital. She tried to memorise the street names, and discovered from signs that the suburb she was in was called Darlinghurst. She at last agreed with a footsore Brooke that they were wasting their time. The Voice would have to wait for another occasion.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

The Voice returned a few days later. Angie was brushing her teeth at the time, and since she was thinking about The Voice anyway, it didn’t startle her as much as it usually did. In fact, she’d almost begun to miss it.

Oh good, we’re back again. Thought I’d lost you for a minute Angie. So, where are we now?

“Mmpthbthm”.

Where?

Angie spat out the toothpaste and rinsed her mouth. “In the bathroom.”

Bathroom? What happened to the bus?

“That was last Saturday.”

A pause. What do you …? what day is it now? His apprehension was evident..

“Thursday.”

Are you serious? You mean we’ve been disconnected for five days? It was only about a minute for me. Shit! As if this stuff wasn’t confusing enough, we must be living on totally different time scales. Ok, we can’t do anything about that. So, Angie, who’s that with you?

Angie turned, thinking someone must have joined her, but there was no-one else in the bathroom. “Nobody. I’m by myself.”

No you aren’t. I can’t see clearly enough yet but it’s not the same girl as before. It’s not your friend Brooke.

The mirror. He was seeing her reflection through her eyes.

“That’s me you’re looking at.”

Another pause. Longer this time. Oh right. Got it. A mirror. For an awful moment I thought you meant I’d jumped across to Brooke’s head and was looking at you through her eyes. Another complication I can do without. Yes, it’s clearer now. So that’s you, eh Angie. Wearing pyjamas if I’m not mistaken. Well well, pretty little thing, aren’t you?

A rosy, warm glow crept to her cheeks and she felt a pleasant thrill. She wasn’t used to compliments.

Ok Cutie, enough of that. Time to get back to the business at hand. Hop on that bus again and we can begin where we left off.

Angie groaned inwardly. Now that she knew where The Voice was coming from, or at least the general area, there was nothing she wanted more than to finalise the search.

“I can’t. It’s a school day.”

Damn. Look Angie, I wouldn’t normally encourage a kid to skip school for anything, but in the circumstances …

Honest, I can’t. Not today. I have a maths test. It’s important.” It was important because it counted towards the end of year exam.

Oh well, in that case I guess I’ll just have to be patient even if it kills me. Good luck with your test.

Thanks.” She turned away from the mirror because looking at her reflection mouthing her words made her feel she was talking to herself. Which was what everyone else thought anyway. “Oh, by the way, some good news; I found out where you are.”

Whoo hoo! Fantastic! Where?

“It’s in a suburb called Darlinghurst. I didn’t find you, but just before your voice cut out the direction you came from changed from East to West, so I knew we’d gone past you. Brooke and I got off the bus and hung around that area for ages hoping you’d come back but you didn’t. We had to give up”.

Angie, I love you! you’re my hero! Next time we connect you should dash to that place as fast as you can. How far away is it?

She hazarded a guess. “Maybe twenty kilometres.”

Mmm, a fair distance. But if we keep the connection long enough it should be a cinch.

“Look, I have to go now or I’ll be late for school.”

Sure, have fun.

Um … Voice, can you, sort of, switch off for a minute?”

Not sure I have any kind of control over it. Why?

“Because I want to get dressed.”

He laughed. Ah yes, I can see you have a problem there. Well let’s see, how can we get around it? Possible method number one, make sure you’re not in front of a full length mirror. Method number two, don’t look down at your own body. Method number three, Since I don’t appear to have any eyes to close and you do, maybe you can get dressed with your eyes closed.

With a combination of all three methods Angie managed to get changed into her school uniform. But it still felt more than a little embarrassing doing so while feeling that a man was watching her.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

On the school bus the Voice, at Angie’s request, kept his word and demanded no responses to his comments on the people and things he saw through Angie’s eyes. He understood the embarrassment she would feel at being seen apparently talking to herself, and what he saw and heard seemed to satisfy and occasionally amuse him. When Angie and Brooke got off the bus they were met at the school gate by Cindy and Ashley.

“Well this is the day, guys,” Ashley said, “the dreaded maths test. Are we all ready for it”

“Hi Ashley,” Angie replied. “Ready? As if. Slatts will fail me anyway. He thinks I made a complaint to Mr Phillips for what he did to me. Hi Cindy.” She made a point of looking directly at the girls in turn so the Voice wouldn’t need to ask who they were. But as she entered the building the Voice had other questions.

When you can talk, Angie, who’s Slatts and what did he do to you?

Angie dropped back to mix with a noisy group of juniors so that her own voice might go unnoticed. “Mr Slattery, my maths teacher. He’s a slimeball. Thought it was amusing to humiliate me in front of everybody. Called me ‘Saint Joan’ because I hear voices. Your voice I mean. I walked out on him”

Good for you. You don’t have to put up with slimeballs.

But now he thinks I reported him to the headmaster.”

Did you?

“No, but if he thinks I did he’ll find a way to punish me. He’ll probably fail me in the test.”

Can’t fail you if you get it a hundred-per-cent correct.

“Yeah, right. That’ll be the day. Anyway, gotta go now, ok?”

Ok. Good luck.

The room provided for the test had one-person desks to minimise the possibility of cheating.

That was fine with Angie whose preferred form of cheating didn’t involve copying from someone else. She chose a desk near the back of the room anyway so as to be as far from Mr Slattery’s notice as possible. The test papers were already on the desks, placed there upside-down by the monitors. When Mr Slattery gave the signal to begin Angie turned the paper over. At the first question her face fell. Geometry was her worst subject. The second question involved percentages. She could probably do that one. The third and fourth were algebraic problems, another of her weak subjects. After scanning the rest of the paper she decided Slattery wouldn’t need an excuse to fail her.

Halfway through the allotted time she had completed only five of the twelve set questions, wasn’t certain any of those answers were correct and had almost despaired of solving the remaining seven. She took another look at the first question, the geometry one. After ten minutes it yielded no clues. There was only one thing left. It was risky, potentially embarrassing, and against her conscience; she would have to resort to cheating. She glanced around her with what she thought was an innocent and unconcerned expression but which anyone watching would have seen as a furtive, hunted animal look. Fortunately no-one was watching as her hand drifted down to her knee and slowly raised the hem of her skirt an inch. A girl on her right turned a page noisily and Angie’s hand froze. She pretended to scratch an itchy knee as she looked around. At the front of the room Mr Slattery sat at his desk occupied with paperwork, his round, bald head shining in the sunlight from the window. The two monitors patrolled between the desks, quietly alert. When the nearer one passed her Angie took her chance and raised her skirt hem until the closely-packed notes written on her thigh appeared. She squinted her eyes to try to read what she’d written there.

Nice legs, but why are you showing them to me?

Angie’s loud squeal shattered the silence. Mr Slattery’s head jerked up. The two monitors glided toward Angie’s desk like Hogwarts dementors, but there was nothing to see. Angie had slid her skirt over the tell-tale ink marks almost before the squeal had left her lips.

“Sorry, sorry. It was just a…um … a moth. On my nose.”

Laughter erupted around her. The monitors drifted away, smiling.

“Thought it was a bee,” she added, in case a moth wasn’t scary enough to warrant the squeal. More laughter. And now Mr Slattery felt obliged to contribute.

“Is that Saint Joan down there causing trouble? Ah yes, I see it is. Your voices told you something shocking, did they?”

The laughter lasted longer this time, necessitating intervention by Mr Slattery.

“All right, all right, settle down everyone. Get back to work.”

Angie tried to get back to work but the tears of humiliation made the figures swim on the page.

Sorry about that, Angie. My fault.

If the words had been audible it would be counted as a whisper. Angie said nothing, not wanting to draw attention to herself again, and angry at everyone including the Voice.

So that’s the slimeball maths teacher eh? The one you say is going to fail you?

“I can’t talk,” Angie muttered, not quietly enough. The girl in the desk in front of her half turned in her seat. When she turned back again her shoulders were heaving. A boy on Angie’s left suppressed a giggle.

No, but you can cough. One cough for yes, two for no.

Angie coughed.

Right, I think we can outsmart this evil little man, you and me together. How about it?

Unsure about the ethics of this despite her own attempt at cheating Angie took a moment to consider, then coughed again.

That first question isn’t hard. You can work out the value of angle ‘d’, right?

Angie coughed once.

And you remember the rule about opposite angles in a parallelogram being equal?

Cough.” Yes, that gave her the clue. With a new hope she completed the problem.

And you got the second question correct. Question number three is solved like this …

With ten minutes to spare Angie put down her pen with a flourish, sat back and folded her arms, willing the maths teacher to look up and take notice, but he didn’t look up until the timer rang.

“Pens down! Hand your test papers to the monitors.”

Angie handed her paper over. While filing out with the others she felt someone grab her arm. She was expecting it to be Brooke or one of the other two girls but when she looked back and up she discovered with a thrill that it was Will Cassidy.

“Come to the library, Angie. I’ve got something to show you.”

He released her arm, an action that disappointed her. It would have been highly satisfying being seen walking through the corridors attached to the best looking boy in school. Once in the library he told her to sit down then took the seat beside her. He pulled something from beneath his shirt.

“I snatched a spare test sheet from the empty desk in front of mine. We can go through it together, see what we got right or wrong. That way, if Slatts fails us at least we’ll know if he was being fair or not.”

And that was how Angie spent her recess period, cheek to cheek with a boy who made her go weak at the knees, a boy every girl in her class surely dreamed of being this close to. Several students passed through the library but Angie never once lifted her face from the page except to steal a glance at Will’s profile and marvel at the particular combination of features that made him so physically attractive to her and made it so difficult to concentrate on the maths problems they were supposed to be discussing. It was especially difficult when his shoulder was pressed against hers and his hair brushed her cheek. Did that contact give him the same intense thrill that it gave her, she wondered, then chastised herself for thinking it. Of course it didn’t. Why would her proximity excite him when he could have the company of any of the hottest girls in the class, or even in the class above his. Her own sister, Sophie, had commented on ‘that hot-looking new guy in Angie’s class’. One good reason not to invite him home, Angie decided.

“Hey, I thought you said you sucked at maths, Angie. You did better than me. It looks like you got every question right.”

Angie had allowed herself to drift into her fantasy world and at first didn’t understand what Will was talking about. When her brain reconnected she realised she should have appeared a bit less sure of the answers. There went her chance of getting him to help her at maths. She’d had daydreams about spending time together, maybe at each other’s homes, helping each other at maths and English grammar.

“Um … ha ha!…Must be my voices telling me the answers.”

Angie put her face in her hands. What on Earth had she said that for? Idiot! Idiot! A slight smile flitted across Will’s face, then vanished as he became serious.

“It’s good than you can joke about it Angie, but I don’t like it when others make fun of it. I know it’s a big problem for you even if they don’t. I looked up tinnitus on the internet so I understand something of what you’re going through with those noises in your head. I hope your doctor can do something for you.”

Angie dropped her hands so that only her mouth was covered by them. She looked at him. He’s not just a pretty face, she thought, he’s a genuinely nice person. Imagine him taking the trouble to do that, to take an interest in the problems of the weirdest girl in the class. She looked away, muttering a thank you. A sudden compulsion to tell him everything overcame her. He would believe her and understand, wouldn’t he?

No he wouldn’t. Of course he wouldn’t. Even Brooke who knew her better than anyone else didn’t believe it. Brooke listened and was sympathetic and tried to understand but she was skeptical about the voice to say the least. Why would Will be any different? She noticed he had gone quiet. She waited for him to say something but he was looking down at the table, at his feet, anywhere but at her. The long silence felt awkward. She tried to think of something she could say to interest him but her mind stayed blank. All she could think of was the overpowering need to blurt out all the details of her insanity to him.

“There’s something …” she began. “Um … there’s something I have to …” She stopped. What was she doing?

Tell him.

“Huh?” Angie had almost forgotten the Voice was there.

Will looked up. “I didn’t say anything.”

You’re dying to tell him, so tell him. I’ve got a good feeling about this boy. He could prove useful.

She had a good feeling about this boy too, but what sort of feeling would this boy have about her once he knew how stuffed up her mind was? Which way would he go? Would he want to help, or would he decide it would be better to leave a weirdo like her well enough alone? There was only one way to find out. Feeling like a gambler risking the last of his fortune she opened the floodgates.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

Ten minutes later Angie finished the last of her tale.

“Well, that’s it. I guess this is where you say ‘fascinating, well I have to go now. Have a nice life, Angie.”

Will had hardly taken his eyes from hers during her story. At certain points his eyes had widened and his jaw had dropped. Now he closed his mouth and gulped. “Fascinating is right. What did your ear doctor say?”

“I didn’t tell him about the voice. He wouldn’t have believed me anyway.”

“Maybe not, but he might have referred you to … another specialist”

“You were going to say psychiatrist, weren’t you. You think I’m a nutcase.”

Will held his hands up in defensive mode. “Hey, I didn’t say that. I’m no expert. I think it’s best to keep an open mind about things. Maybe it’s a job for a psychiatrist, maybe not. Why think of it as a brain problem anyway when it could be a brain development?”

Angie gave him a puzzled stare. “What does that mean?”

Will moved his hands around in his struggle to explain. “Like Scott, my cousin’s kid. He’s only six but he can read as well as I can, and he never forgets anything, ever. He has autism, like the guy in that movie, ‘Rainman’.”

“I’m not autistic.” It wasn’t something she’d ever considered. Now she wondered.

“No, I’m not explaining this right,” Will continued. “What I’m saying is, Scott might not connect so well with the real world, but he’s gifted, like a lot of autistic people. It’s like he connects with bits of the brain that the rest of us can’t reach. Maybe that’s what you’re doing.”

He’s a thinker, this boy. He might be on to something.

Angie didn’t think her face had given anything away when the voice had spoken but Will noticed something.

“Angie, did you just hear the voice again?”

“Er .. yes. How did you know?”

“Your expression changed, like you were listening to something. What did the voice say? Can you understand it?”

“Yes, as clear as listening to you. He said you’re a thinker, and that you might be on to something. Earlier on he said he had a good feeling about you.”

“Really?”

Angie nodded. “He thinks we can use you.”

She saw the skepticism in Will’s eyes. He was far from ready to believe but his interest was obvious.

“Use me? For what?”

“To help me find him.”

She could tell that he was struggling to think of something to say that wouldn’t hurt her feelings. He moved closer and looked into her eyes, his brow drawn down into a frown.

“So you reckon this person inside your head can look through your eyes? He’s looking at me now, just like you?”

“And listening to you.”

Better provide him with some solid evidence, Angie. Get him to ask you something you can’t possibly know, like something that happened before you were born.

Angie relayed this to Will, who smiled.

“You mean stuff happened before I was around and no-one told me? Ok, no more jokes. Um … my dad’s a big Elvis fan so I know a lot about him. Right, what was Elvis’ middle name?

Angie relayed the answer the voice gave her. “Aaron, and he had a twin brother, Jesse Garon, who died at birth.”

Will thought up another question. “Who was the prime minister in England during the second world war?”

Angie’s reply was given with pauses as she waited for the Voice to give the individual pieces of information. “Neville Chamberlain then Winston Churchill. They kicked Churchill out after the war and Clement Attlee took over. Churchill was back in a few years later.”

Will’s eyes widened with surprise. “I thought it was just Churchill. I never heard of the others.” He looked around, then leaned over to drag a heavy book that had been left on the next desk, an atlas. “Enough history. Time for geography. He opened the book at random. “Ok, here’s something you won’t know; what’s the capital of Norway?”

“Oslo.”

“Iceland?”

“Reykjavik.”

He raised an eyebrow at Angie then leafed to another part of the massive volume.

“Right, you won’t get this one; the capital of … Mongolia?”

“Ulaanbatar.”

Will slammed the atlas shut. “Shit! I was sure you wouldn’t know that. I didn’t know any of them.”

“Neither did I. And don’t forget I got all the maths answers right even though I suck at maths. Are you convinced yet?”

Will leaned back and stretched. “About seventy-five per cent convinced.” He leaned forward again and looked deeply into her eyes, an action which gave her a particular thrill until he ruined the effect by adding “but it’s heaps disturbing to think that someone inside your head is staring straight back at me.” He gave a twiddly-fingered wave. “Hi there, you inside Angie’s head. How’re you doing?”

Tell him I said hi right back at him and I’m doing fine, and tell him it’s not near as disturbing as me knowing all that stuff but not knowing anything about myself. And tell him I have a question for him; what ideas has he got for finding me?

Will listened as Angie repeated the Voice’s words, then asked his own question. “Ask him what time he’ll be in your head again tomorrow.”

“He doesn’t know that. It comes and goes. He doesn’t have any control over it. Why?”

“Because if he’s in there tomorrow you and I are going to rush as fast as we can back to Darlinghurst to continue from the spot where you and Brooke left off.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

“Angie’s got a boyfriend.”

It was the first thing Sophie said, or rather sang, as she came in the front door and dropped her school bag on the floor. The sisters had arrived home at the same time although by different means; Angie in the school bus, Sophie in Todd’s car. Mrs Hope looked up from the kitchen table with an indulgent smile.

“That’s nice. Do I know him?”

“Don’t listen to her, Mum. He’s not my boyfriend.” Angie dropped her bag next to Sophie’s then pushed both bags towards the wall with her foot. She leaned over the table to see what her mother was making. It looked like shepherd’s pie. “He’s new at school. You don’t know him.”

Sophie opened the fridge door, saw nothing she wanted and closed it. Climbing on a stool she breasted the breakfast bar. “There’s no reason to deny it, Angie. I saw Jade Smith and some other girls looking through the corridor window into the library and giggling. I checked what they were looking at and, Mum, there was Angie sitting cheek to cheek with this hot new guy from her class.

“It wasn’t like that,” Angie retorted, blushing. “We were just talking about the maths test.”

“Talking? You were practically sitting in his lap.”

“I was not.”

Their mother joined in the teasing. “Mmm, this sounds serious, Angie. Is he tall, dark and handsome?”

“Mum, he’s just a nice boy.”

“Tall, dark, and definitely handsome,” Sophie replied. “Angie’s not the quiet little thing you think she is. She’s lives a secret life. Angie the man eater. Grrr!”

Even Angie had to laugh at that one. Unlike Sophie who had had a succession of boyfriends since she was eleven Angie had never even been on a date except in a group. Sophie wasn’t finished.

“Maybe he’ll want to partner you at the year ten formal.”

“Yeah, right. Will could have his choice of any girl in the class. Why would he choose me?”

Sophie smiled. “You’ve got a point there. Why would he choose you when he’s already got a girl friend?”

Angie’s stomach dropped. This was something she hadn’t known. She’d seen Will talking with girls but there’d been no sign of a special closeness with any of them. Nothing like the closeness he’d shown to her in the library or when he’d defended her against Mr Slattery. At lunch he didn’t favour any particular group and was just as likely to be found at the table with the least popular boys or girls. But why should she be surprised? Why should his helping her be anything more than kindness? After all, he was, as she’d said, a ‘nice boy’.

Yet if he really had a special girlfriend why wasn’t it better known? It wasn’t as if the class contained a million girls. Everyone gossiped. Everyone knew who was dating whom. She could name a dozen who ‘would just die’ if Will Cassidy were to ask them on a date, including her own trio of friends. Was it Lily Rixon, the sylph-like blonde who was always asked to play the romantic lead in school plays? Or Lily’s friend Astrid Leung, the clever and popular class captain? She hoped it wasn’t Jessica Lewis. Jessica’s reputation may or may not be based on fact but she was the subject of constant gossip among her classmates.

“You’re dying to know who it is, aren’t you?” Sophie teased.

Angie shrugged. “Not really, but you’re dying to tell me.”

“Ok, I will. It’s Portia Wright.”

Where Angie’s stomach had dropped before it now plummeted to the ground. Portia Wright!? Portia was a student at Saint Cecelia’s, an all girl school in the next suburb. A year older than Angie, she had become a local celebrity, a stunning blonde who had been a child fashion model and appeared in television advertisements and local theatre productions. Portia Wright was considered so far out of reach that none of the boys Angie knew would dare ask her out. Except Will Cassidy apparently.

So that was that. There was no longer any point in daydreaming impossible fantasies. Angie changed the subject and, as soon as was decently possible, went up to her room and closed the door. She cried silently so that no-one would hear her.

 

 

 

Chapter 15

Angie laughed as she read the dictionary definition; ‘ox-like, stolid, dull’. ‘Bovine’ was how Will had described Todd Norton and his friends and now she understood why. She closed the heavy Macquarie and placed it back on the bookshelf beside the fireplace.

“A word you need for homework?” her father asked. Both parents were seated together on the sofa, drinking tea and watching the BBC lifestyle program ‘Escape to the country’.

“Not really.” Angie sat down beside her mother. “It’s just something someone at school said and I didn’t know what it meant. Mum and Dad, would you describe Todd as ‘bovine’?”

Mr and Mrs Hope made spluttering noises. Mrs Hope wiped away the tea she’d spilled down her front. “That’s not very flattering, Angie, is it? Though I have to say that Todd does come across as rather like a bull at times”

“I’d have said ‘porcine’, Mr Hope said.

Angie sighed. “Do I have to look that word up too or are you going to tell me what it means?”

“It means ‘pig-like’, love.”

“Pig-like? No, not in appearance. His manners maybe.”

“That’s enough, you two,” Mrs Hope said, although Angie noticed the suppressed smile. “Whatever Todd’s faults we should make an effort to like him for Sophie’s sake.”

“That’s true,” Mr Hope replied. He winked at Angie. “Sophie’s taste in boyfriends might not be as bad as it appears. Todd may have hidden qualities we haven’t suspected.”

“Yeah, right,” Angie said.

“And speaking of boyfriends, what’s this I hear about you and some boy at school, Angie?”

Angie gave an exasperated sigh and raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Oh no, what’s Sophie been telling you?”

“It was your Mum who told me, not Sophie.”

Mrs Hope took her eyes from the television. “I only told him what Sophie said, and that you said he’s just a friend and a nice boy.”

“And very nice looking, you said. Well, what about it, Angie?”

“What about what?”

“Would he make a suitable boyfriend?”

She pressed her lips together to prevent a smile as she squeezed into the corner of the sofa and folded her arms. “Yes. Now can we change the subject?”

“Ok,” Mr Hope continued. “Since we’re on the subject of school friends, what do you know about that boy who was expelled for selling drugs? We heard about that from Mrs Lambert.”

“Josh Vesey? He was in the senior class. I’ve never spoken to him.”

Mrs Hope switched off the television although her program was not over. She turned to face her daughter. “Do you ever get approached by people like that, Angie?”

Angie shook her head. “They know I’d refuse. I have the rep of being a goody-two-shoes.”

“I’m pleased to hear it. But you must hear things, about drug taking, who does and who doesn’t.”

“I could name a few who smoke pot. I hear stories about stronger stuff but I don’t know anyone who takes it.”

“Would Sophie know?”

“Maybe. She mixes with the year twelve kids so she might hear things. She told me about some older boys, ex-students, who hang around the school gates talking to kids. Mr Phillips notified the police”

“We heard about them,” Mr Hope said. “If they’re selling drugs it’s unlikely they’ll have them on their person so all the police can do is tell them to move along. Any deal will be made in some prearranged place. If you hear anything, Angie, don’t be afraid to tell the principal.”

They were interrupted by the sound of hurrying footsteps outside. The door opened and Sophie burst into the room, breathless and excited.

“Come outside, everybody. Come and see Todd’s new car!”

She rushed back outside and Angie and her parents trooped obediently after her. They found Todd leaning against the door of a gleaming black Ford and looking absurdly pleased with himself. The car was half in the driveway and half blocking the footpath, the multiple layers of polish giving it a mirror finish so that Todd’s lower half was reflected in the door.

“What do ya think?”

“Oh, it’s…very nice, Todd,” Mrs Hope said. “Very shiny. Is it yours?”

Todd’s grin faded. He looked affronted. “Yeah, course it is. What about you, Mr Hope? You like it?”

Angie’s father walked slowly around the car to inspect it. “Very impressive indeed, Todd. The pizza delivery business must pay better than I thought.”

“Todd doesn’t do that any more, Dad,” Sophie said. She hoisted herself to sit on the car’s bonnet, causing concern to her boyfriend who checked that her heels were not making scuff marks on the car. “He does car detailing at his uncle’s garage.”

“She does zero to a hundred in six seconds,” Todd proclaimed proudly. “Two hundred tops on the road, easy.”

“But not with my daughter in it, I hope, Todd.”

“Oh no, Mr Hope. I always drive real careful when Sophie’s with me.” He opened the driver’s side door. “Would you like a drive, Mr Hope?”

“Another time, Todd. Thanks all the same.”

“Mrs Hope? Angie? Would you like a ride?”

They both declined with thanks. Angie said. “Cool car though, Todd. It really suits you. Makes you look positively…um…bovine.”

Todd looked confused but pleased. “Thanks Angie.”

After a few more minutes of Todd pointing out the features of his pride and joy he and Sophie roared out of the driveway and up the street in a cloud of blue smoke.

“So much for driving safely,” Mrs Hope said.

“Yes,” her husband replied, “and now I’m thinking that car detailing must pay better than I thought too.”

Angie followed her parents back inside the house. She knew they were worried about Sophie being in a speeding car. She wondered if they were also thinking what she was thinking. She knew Todd didn’t earn much money from his part time job, so where did the money for such a car come from?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

The voice came back a few days later. Angie was on the sidelines watching her netball team get beaten and thinking that they’d be even further behind if she was still on the field. She’d fallen and grazed her knee and had to come off.

Oh good. I’m back with you. Like television, only I don’t have an on / off button. How long was I switched off for this time?

She had to think. “Since Thursday. Remember? The maths test? Today’s Wednesday so it’s been six days.”

Hell! My life is vanishing in big chunks and I’m not there to enjoy it. That’s if I’m alive at all. But if this is the Afterlife it’s damn boring. You’re the only interesting bit in it, Angie.

“Thanks.” It suddenly struck her that she’d missed him.

Netball, eh? I used to watch my…my… Dammit! I almost had a memory there but it vanished before I could grab it. Like trying to hold onto smoke. That’s happening more and more. Oh well, that’s probably a good sign. Ok Angie, what’s the chance of jumping on that bus again and …

“I’ve been waiting for you to come back. I might be able to go today after school. That’s in about half an hour, but I’ve got to find Will first.”

Fine. Is he coming too?

Yes. And he can get a car. That’ll be quicker than the train and bus.”

She was already hobbling across the field towards the soccer field where she knew Will had been playing.

You’re walking funny. It’s making me dizzy.

Put up with it. I hurt my knee.”

Will was not on the field and she couldn’t see him among those watching. His game had finished and he’d be in the change room, she was told. At the entrance to the change room she got one of the younger boys to see if Will Cassidy was inside. A moment later Will came out, dressed but with the laces of his sneakers flapping.

“What’s up?” he dropped his bag and leaned against the wall to fasten his laces.

“It’s The Voice. He’s back. Did you mean what you said about coming with me?”

“Yep.” He dived a hand into a pocket of his backpack and came up with a mobile phone. “You get changed while I make a phone call.”

There were two of the younger students in the girls’ change room, both fully dressed. While changing from her sports clothes back into her uniform Angie kept her eyes on the bank of locker doors in front of her.

You know what, Angie? A girls’ change room is not as interesting as I’d imagined. All I can see is lockers.

“Good. That’s all you’re going to see. You’re not supposed to be in the girl’s change room anyway.”

The other girls looked up in some alarm at her words, wondering who was in the change room who shouldn’t be. When they saw who had spoken they looked at each other and grinned. Angie’s reputation had reached the lower grades too. Angie didn’t see their reaction because she was still looking only at the lockers.

“I’m never going to get used to this,” she said. This time she heard the giggling the two girls couldn’t suppress. She ignored them.

Maybe you won’t have to after today if you find me. Let’s see what happens then.

She stuffed her gym clothes into her locker and locked it, slung her bag over one shoulder and went outside. Will was waiting.

“My brother Michael will pick us up in about fifteen minutes. He reckons he can get us to Darlinghurst by around four o’clock. Can you keep that voice in your head going until then?”

“I told you, it comes and goes. Sometimes stays for minutes, sometimes hours.”

“Ok. We’ll just have to hope it stays around long enough or we’ll be wasting our time. Michael’s too.” He started walking towards the school gates with Angie keeping pace.

“Will, you didn’t tell your brother about The Voice, did you?”

“No. He’s curious though. Keeps asking why this journey is so important and mysterious.”

“I don’t want anyone else to know. Too many know about it already. I wish I hadn’t told Brooke and Cindy and Ashley.”

“What about your parents?”

“I only said that the noises sound like voices. I told my sister the same thing.”

They stood on the footpath outside the school and waited in silence. Other kids walked past, getting an early mark from sport. It was Will who broke the silence.

“Your sister? That’s the girl with straight blonde hair, right? Called Sophie?”

That gave Angie an uneasy feeling. It wasn’t the first time a boy had asked her about her sister, but until now it had never been a boy she herself especially liked. If Will had noticed Sophie was it possible he might be interested in her? That thought was enough to make Angie wish she didn’t have a sister at all.

“Yes. She’s one year older than me.” She looked at the ground and made circles in the dust with the toe of her shoe. “Everybody says she’s really pretty.”

Will nodded. “She is, but she can’t be too smart.”

“Why?”

”Because she hangs around with that boofhead Todd Norton.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17

 

“Michael’s here.”

Will steered Angie to the kerb by her elbow as a cream Subaru hatchback glided to a stop. He opened the rear door for her and was about to slide in beside her when a voice from the front stopped him.

“Sit in the front, Michael, I need you to read the street directory.” The driver, an older, more rugged version of Will, turned around and smiled at Angie. “Hi, I’m Michael.”

Disappointed that she wouldn’t be sitting beside Will, she smiled back. “I’m Angie.”

“I know. Will’s told me all about you.” He turned to his brother. “Well, not quite all. He’s been very secretive about this trip.”

“Believe me, Bro, I’d tell you if I could. Maybe later, but only if Angie agrees.”

“Ok, I said I wouldn’t ask any more questions.” Michael drove out to join the lanes of traffic.

“I think I’ve met your sister, the one with long, fair hair. Friendly type.”

Angie groaned silently. Sophie was only friendly when it suited her. “Really? Where?”

“Where I take this car for service. I thought she was on the staff because she came up to me and started talking. At least she did until some thickset young guy who was working on a car called her over. He was glaring at me. Probably thought I was flirting with his girlfriend.”

Todd of course. More likely it was Sophie doing the flirting, Angie thought, but said nothing.

“Not that I’d have minded,” Michael continued. “Your sister’s a hottie. I didn’t realise she was a school kid until I pointed out the boyfriend to Will next time we passed the car yard and he recognised him.”

While stopped at the next set of traffic lights Michael turned around and looked at her. “But now I get a proper look at you, Angie, I guess it’s you who’s the cute one in the family, right?”

He was smiling and Angie couldn’t help smiling back. She would have liked to think he meant what he said but decided he was just being nice. Maybe the Cassidys were all like that. Over the next half hour Angie learned that Michael was twenty-two, had a girlfriend called Kate, had just completed a university degree in Commerce, and although currently employed in a bank was regretting his choice and wished he’d majored in Art or Drama instead. The subject of Drama brought up another subject not dear to Angie’s heart.

“By the way, Will, Kate can make it on Saturday,” Michael said.

“Oh that’s great. Portia said she’d be disappointed if she couldn’t. She kept some front row seats for us.”

Portia. Portia Wright. Will was going to watch his gorgeous girlfriend perform on stage on Saturday. How utterly thrilling.

“Are you going, Angie?” Michael asked. “If you are I’ll let Portia know.” Before she could reply Will answered for her.

“I don’t know if she’s met Portia.” He turned to face her. “Have you?”

Angie shook her head. “No. I’ve seen her around though.” She decided she’d better say something nice about her. “She’s a lovely-looking girl.”

“She sure is.” Will said, a little too emphatically for Angie’s liking. “She’s in a play at the Olive Street Theatre on Saturday.”

“It’s Charley’s Aunt,” Michael added. “One of my favourites. She does the part of Amy, Charley’s girl friend. Do you know that one?”

Angie had to admit she didn’t. If she’d been asked to name a play she’d seen she could only have said, ‘Julius Caesar’, and only because they’d had to study it last year and the whole class had been taken to see it.

“It’s a late nineteenth century farce.” Michael continued. “You’d like it, I’m sure, Angie. The Olive Street gang might be an amateur group but they put on a good show. I’m involved too. I help paint the scenery.”

Michael half turned his head and gave his brother a look Angie wasn’t able to interpret. A moment later Will turned in his seat to face her.

“Do you want to come? I’ll ask Portia to save another seat.”

Angie was quite taken aback. Why had he asked that? It would look like he was on a date with her while his girlfriend was up there on the stage. Didn’t he understand girls at all, or was he so naïve he couldn’t visualise the possible consequences? These questions rattled about in her head while she considered a proper reply. The obvious one was ‘No, I can’t go’. On the other hand why on Earth would Portia Wright, the beautiful, talented Portia Wright, consider the less than beautiful and totally untalented Angela Hope as a threat to her relationship with Will? Maybe she’d see Angie as just another school friend of Will’s eager to see a play. What was wrong with that? What was wrong with it was that Angie didn’t believe it for a moment.

“No, I cant…because…” Because what? Because I have to wash my hair? Because I have something better to do? How could she put this?

“You’ll like it, Angie,” Will persisted.” I promise. You can come with us backstage and meet Portia and the rest of the cast. And we always go for a meal together at Traders after first night.”

“But…what will Portia…?”

“Don’t worry, Portia can always get spare tickets. She likes me bringing new people”

She was about to explain that wasn’t her meaning when Michael added his voice to his brother’s

“Will’s right, Angie. We all try to get new people to come along, hopefully to become regulars. That’s how the theatre is funded basically, bums on seats. The Council grant isn’t enough.”

Angie’s resolve was crumbling under this persuasive onslaught. Maybe she’d been right after all when she thought maybe Portia would hardly notice her.

“Ok, I’ll go. Thanks for asking.”

“Good girl,” Michael said. “You won’t be sorry.”

I agree. Good girl.

Even The Voice’s reassurance didn’t stop her worrying for the rest of the journey that she might have been wrong to agree. Michael might be as naive as his brother about girls’ feelings, but there was no backing out now.

We must be getting close.

Angie’s slow response prompted The Voice to suggest an additional option for communication. Three coughs for Í don’t know.

Angie did her best to make her three coughs sound natural, then said, “are we nearly there yet?” She cringed at the childish sound of her question, the question she and Sophie used to annoy their father with as children. He had always made a joke of it. ‘No, we’re not ‘there’, we’re ‘here’. We’ll never be ‘there’ because then that will be ‘here’ too’.

“Not far off,” Michael said. “A couple more corners to turn. “You’ll have to point out where you want me to stop.”

Will turned to face her again and mouthed so that his brother wouldn’t hear, “The Voice still there?”

She nodded. This time The Voice had to stay long enough for her to let her solve the mystery of who and where he was. She realised she was willing herself to hang onto him as if she could control his existence by will power alone.

“This is Oxford Street, “Michael said a few moments later. “Say when”.

It didn’t look familiar yet, just a traffic-clogged main road with businesses either side. Then suddenly she recognised an unusually shaped building she and Brooke had noticed on the earlier trip. She bent down behind the front seat so that the others wouldn’t hear and said softly, “Make noises so that I can follow the direction.”

Dum de dum de dum …

When Angie straightened up she recognised a building. “It’s around here somewhere.”

“Shall I stop?”

“No, not yet.”

More familiar buildings. The Voice continued dum-de-dumming so she could orientate its source. She looked for the names on cross streets. Palmer Street…Bourke Street…

Then it happened. Just like the first time, as if the wind had changed direction. All at once the Voice was behind her.

“Stop!” she yelled, startling Michael into touching the brake and causing a following driver to sound an admonishing horn.

”I’ll stop over there.” Michael indicated a bus stop bay fifty metres ahead. “You get out and I’ll find somewhere to park while I wait for you.”

Angie and Will unlatched their seat belts. “I’ll phone you when we’re done, Michael,” Will said as he and Angie exited the car. Before closing the door Angie leaned in.

“Thanks, Michael. It was good of you to do this for me.”

“Glad to be of service. I just wish I knew what it was all for.”

“If you knew you’d say I was crazy.” Angie closed the door and the car sped off just as a bus was about to stop there. She joined Will on the pavement.

“Which way, Angie? Did the Voice tell you?”

“The Voice doesn’t know. He’s just making noises so I can follow. It changed direction a few metres back. This way.”

She hurried back the way they had come. Within a hundred metres she knew she was at another change point. The Voice was now coming from somewhere in or behind one of the buildings. At the next corner she knew it had to be the big, round fronted grey one.

“Got it!”

Got what? Me?

“No, but you must be in this building.”

Fantastic. Come and get me. This is looking good.

Without hesitating Angie bounded up the steps with Will following.

“Have you seen what this place is, Angie?” Will panted.

Angie stopped at the top of the steps and looked at the sign outside.

Oops! A hospital. Maybe not looking so good. Ok, I’ll keep making noises so you can track me down.

The dum-de-dums resumed and Angie, with a puzzled-looking Will following, passed through the entrance and into the foyer. Inside she tilted her head from side to side, casting for the strongest source of the sounds. It came now from deeper in the building and somewhere above her.

“He’s on a higher floor,” she informed Will. “Find the elevators.”

Together they studied the large information board which gave directions to the various wards and departments. An arrow for the elevators pointed to the right. In the elevator car the sounds still came from above until they reached the fourth floor. Now she knew she was level with it. They left the elevator and followed the sounds along a wide corridor with smaller corridors leading off it. Here the glass and aluminium of the foyer and ground floor gave way to scuffed linoleum floors and plastered walls painted in two shades of green. Oxygen cylinders, wheeled gurneys and other medical equipment lined the walls between sets of doors. Signs above doors and at corners indicated entrances or directions to various medical wards and hospital services. Surgical Admittance, Orthopaedics, Food Services, Ear, Nose and Throat unit.

Anywhere, Angie. Don’t care where you find me as long as it’s not in the hospital morgue.

Down corridor after corridor they hurried. When cut off from The Voice by walls and locked doors, they sought another way. And at last found it. Inside a department marked ‘Neurology’

“He’s in here somewhere,” Angie whispered.

The neurology department was composed of numerous individual wards surrounding a central area in which doctors, nurses and clerical assistants went about their business. They appeared to take no notice of the two teenagers. The reason became clear when Angie and Will looked in the wards and saw that some of the patients had visitors. They had not noticed the visiting times earlier. The Voice appeared to come from behind a door to one side of the nurses’ area. When no staff were near Angie and Will slipped through the door. Behind it was a short corridor with a couple of doors in one wall. Above one door was a sign that said ‘Çoma Unit 1’.

Coma Unit? Well that appears to explain the mystery finally. I’m in there. Comatose, not dead. Keep going Angie. There’s hope for me yet.

But maybe not. Seated on a chair outside the door, and glaring suspiciously at the two intruders, sat an armed guard.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

The guard was a big man, about fifty, with a prominent belly, balding head and a slab of a face that might have been carved out of granite. One foot rested on the opposite knee. His arms were folded. He frowned as he watched the two young people approach. Angie tried a friendly smile.

‘Hi, we’ve come to visit the patient.” Should she have brought flowers or something, she wondered. The man didn’t smile back. He looked her up and down then did the same to Will.

“There’s nobody in there.”

“Yes there is. I know there is.”

The man shook his head but said nothing, infuriating Angie who decided she hadn’t got this far to be stopped by some idiot.

Tell him you’re the patient’s family

“We’re family.”

“Like I said, there’s nobody in there.”

‘Then why are you guarding nobody?” Will said.

The guard’s lip curled menacingly. “Don’t get smart, son.” He pointed. “Get right back through that door you came in at.”

Angie pulled at Will’s sleeve. “Come on, Will. We’ll find a nurse or doctor to let us in.”

At the nurses station they picked out a young, friendly looking woman. Will addressed her with his most charming smile. “Hi, can you help us? We’re family of the patient in the coma room but there’s a guy outside who won’t let us in.”

“And it’s visiting hours,” Angie added.

The young nurse put down the documents she was carrying. “Family?”

“Yes. He’s my dad.”

The quizzical look she received at this made Angie wonder if she’d said something wrong. The nurse gave her a half smile

“Your dad, eh?”

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“Fifteen. Why?”

“Because if he’s your dad he must have been a very precocious little twelve-year-old.”

That stopped any chance of fooling the staff. It also told Angie something about how old The Voice was now. As she and Will slunk away she realised The Voice was no longer in her head.

 

 

 

Chapter 19

“Well that was humiliating.” Angie fumed with shame and embarrassment as they hurried back through the wards and corridors to the elevators.

“Not to mention frustrating,” Will said, “So near and yet so far, eh?”

In the elevator Will tried to phone his brother but there was no signal. He needn’t have bothered because Michael was seated in the foyer waiting for them.

“I watched you come in here before I looked for a parking spot. I found a one hour spot around the corner. Felt like a coffee so I checked and found there’s a cafeteria on this level. How about it?”

Angie and Will looked at each then said, together. “Why not?”

In the cafeteria they ordered cappucinos and carried them to a table next to the wall. Michael leaned back in his chair and spread his hands. “Well? Job done?”

They shook their heads.

“Thought so when I saw the miserable faces.”

Angie sighed. “Looks like we wasted your time, Michael. Sorry”

“It wasn’t a total waste of time,” Will interjected. “We kind of found what we went looking for.”

Will and Angie looked at each other, each seeing the question in the other’s eyes. Angie made a decision. “Will, I’m going to tell Michael everything.”

Will let out a breath as if keeping the secret had been a heavy burden. He nodded his agreement and turned to his brother. “Michael, you’re not going to believe what she’s about to tell you. I didn’t myself at first but now I’m convinced. It’s really strange, but if you hear her out and try not to be too skeptical you’ll understand why we’re here doing this.”

Michael emptied two sugar sachets into his coffee and took a sip, leaving a line of froth on his upper lip. “Ok, I’m all ears.”

Just as she had with Will in the school library Angie poured out the story of The Voice. At various points in the tale Michael’s eyes and mouth registered humorous disbelief but he said nothing until Angie had finished.

“Wow. That’s some story.”

“I told you you wouldn’t believe it,” Will said. “You probably think we’re playing a joke, or that Angie’s mad or self-deluded or something. She isn’t and it isn’t a joke. She really does have some kind of connection with this coma guy.”

They waited for Michael to say something. He looked at Will then at Angie as if trying to ascertain if there was some trick that he was the object of. He was silent for so long that Angie had to prompt him.

“What are you thinking? That I’m some kind of loony?”

“I’m thinking lots of things. First, is it April Fool’s Day? No. Second, are you, as you said, some kind of loony? I don’t know, I’d need to know you better. And third, that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.”

“Thanks for listening anyway.”

“Is the voice inside your head now?

“No.

“Can you contact it?”

Angie shook her head. I have to wait until the next connection. I don’t think he does it himself, it just happens. Why, do you believe me?”

“I haven’t quite reached that stage yet.” He took a thoughtful sip of his coffee. “You have to admit it’s more than a bit weird. On the other hand, the fact that this voice led you to a coma patient is kind of convincing. As I said, Angie, I don’t know you well enough, but I do know my brother and I always could tell when he’s lying. He believes you, and Will isn’t easily fooled.”

“Thanks Bro,” Will said. “So, any ideas?”

“Not until this voice comes back. What’s the longest you lost connection, Angie?”

“About a week.”

“Ok, well there’s no point going back to talk to his medical team. They’d only laugh at you. Let’s consider what we’ve learned. One, he’s in a coma. Two, he’s in his mid to late twenties. Three, he’s somebody important.”

“Important?” both his listeners exclaimed.

“Why else is he in a guarded room?’

It was something Angie hadn’t considered. “Could he be a prisoner?”

“That’s possible. If he was made comatose in prison they’d bring him here. I don’t suppose they have coma units in prisons.”

“What other kinds of people would need armed guards?” Will asked.

“Politicians?” Angie suggested. “Movie stars? Royalty?”

“Gangsters,” Will said. “Remember that hospital scene in ‘The Godfather?”

Angie had not seen the movie. She hoped The Voice wasn’t a gangster. “We still don’t even know his name.”

“True,” Michael said. “And it isn’t likely the hospital will give it to us. We don’t know anything about him at all, do we? Do you get any inkling of the kind of man he is, Angie?”

“He’s not a gangster, I’m sure of that.”

“Because?”

“Because he seems too likeable, too trustworthy.”

“That rules out politician too then,” Michael laughed. “We have movie star or royalty.”

“Movie star then. He has a sense of humour. And he’s always positive and optimistic. And he doesn’t sound at all like royalty.” Angie always thought the British royal family spoke as if they were severely constipated.

“Well, whatever he is,” Michael said, “we can’t do anything more at the moment. But since you won’t feel satisfied until you’ve actually seen him in physical form we’ve got to find a way to get you inside that room.”

Angie gave a hollow laugh. “Past an armed guard? How?”

“The guard can’t stay there twenty four hours a day, and when he goes home he’ll be replaced by another guard. One who hasn’t seen either of you so won’t recognise you.”

“Yes,” Will said, “but why would he let us in if this one won’t?”

“He won’t. But he must get sleepy sometimes, or need to stretch his legs a bit.”

“Or pee,” Will said.

Angie and Will considered these points without any feelings of hope. They drank the rest of the coffee in thoughtful silence until Michael spoke again.

“Ok, I agree those are slim chances. So, what other possibilities are there? Did you notice other doors nearby? What about a verandah?”

Angie considered. “It was only a short corridor but I think I saw a couple of other doors.”

“There was a window at the end,” Will said. “I don’t know if there was a verandah, How could we climb onto a verandah three floors up without being seen”

“No need to climb if the verandah stretches along the whole floor. You might be able to get to it from another room,” Michael replied.

“But we can’t do it now,” Will said. “The Voice isn’t inside Angie’s head and might not be for days.”

“We don’t need the Voice, but we do need a different guard at the door and a nurse who doesn’t know you.” Finish your coffee and we’ll go home and think about it.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20

 

As Michael had said, they didn’t need The Voice, but neither did an opportunity to do anything more present itself. Other things kept Angie too busy to make a second visit to the hospital, and one thing in particular occupied her mind; Will Cassidy and the coming play. By the time Saturday came around she had worked herself up into a kind of panic. Should she pretend to be ill so that she could break the date and stop any likelihood of upsetting Will’s girlfriend? Portia’s feelings were an unknown quantity and it took a serious self-consultation before Angie made the decision not to be a wimp. She would go to the play with Will, and to Hell with what Portia Wright thought of her.

What to wear? Last year’s Julius Caesar had been a special session for schools so most of the audience were in school uniform, but Angie’s mental image of playgoers’ dress was formed from old movies where the men wore tuxedos and the women evening dresses. She knew it wasn’t that way now and that an amateur production would expect a more casual audience, but just how casual was casual in this case? She had told no-one, not even her three closest friends, about going to the play. In the end she confided in her mother.

Mothers, it seemed, must have a sixth sense where their daughters are concerned, because Mrs Hope seemed fully aware that Angie was sick with worry, and of the reason for it. Less than subtle clues, like the care Angie had taken with her hair and the search through her sister’s make up collection, could perhaps have alerted her. When Michael’s car pulled up outside, Angie, with her mother’s help, was as ready as she could be, in a pleated red miniskirt over black tights, a lacy black top and flat-heeled shoes. When Will came to the door he made no comment on her appearance but his eyebrows rose noticeably. Mrs Hope had proved a surprisingly adept beautician, using make up to bring out her daughter’s best features while leaving her looking totally natural. Will was wearing a black jacket in some soft, velvety material over a white shirt and blue jeans. After brief introductions and a ‘have a nice time’ from Mrs Hope, Angie and Will went out to the car.

Michael’s girlfriend Kate was in the front passenger seat. She turned around and introduced herself, a friendly-looking girl with black, bobbed hair that emphasised the big smile on her round face. Michael turned too. He made an ‘O’ sign with his finger and thumb and said “Looking good, Angie.”

#

 

The Olive Street theatre foyer was thronged with people in animated conversation. Angie’s companions seemed to be well known because several people broke away from their groups to welcome them. Kisses and handshakes were exchanged and Angie was introduced to a dozen men and women, old and young, whose names she immediately forgot. Much of the conversation that followed was about plays or about people the others knew, and she felt unable to contribute. What could she say that might sound meaningful or intelligent? She looked about her. Playgoers, she decided, tended to be arty types, or at least did their best to project an arty, trendy image. A good number of the women favoured what she considered hippy-style clothes, including Kate, whose mid-calf caramel suede dress was fringed. Her combination of twenties-style bobbed hair and sixties-style dress Angie rather liked. She considered adopting something similar herself but decided against it. People thought her odd enough already. Michael wore jeans like his brother but without a jacket, just a fine-check shirt.

Although the people she met were friendly she felt relieved when a chime signified the doors were now open. With her new friends she drifted into the auditorium. Their seats were in the second row with an excellent view of the stage, though since the theatre seated fewer than two hundred no seat would have a poor view. A one-time factory, the Olive Street Theatre had been skilfully converted and for an amateur venue was well equipped with comfortable seats and high-tech lighting.

She found herself seated between Will and Kate, Michael having disappeared behind the stage explaining he had set-moving duties. Angie studied the program Will had given her while her two friends looked over her shoulder and commented on what they read. There was Portia’s name in the cast of players; Miss Amy Spettigue played by Portia Wright. So obsessed in her need to think evil thoughts about her rival did Angie become that she hardly heard a word her companions said.

She continued in this mood until the curtain rose.

To her surprise she enjoyed the play and was almost immediately caught up in the action and laughing with the rest of the audience at the silly mix-ups the characters got themselves into. Despite her feelings towards the actress playing her it was impossible not to like the character Amy. So sweet and lovable was she the way Portia portrayed her that Angie temporarily forgot she wanted to hate her.

At intermission, despite being included, she again felt left out when Will, Michael and Kate chatted with other regulars, and was glad when the play resumed. The second act she enjoyed too, but her apprehension gradually increased during the final scenes, knowing Will would insist on her going backstage afterwards to meet the cast, including Portia.

As it happened she met her sooner. Before the last of the three curtain calls was over Will excused himself and went backstage alone leaving Angie and Kate to amuse themselves. Kate was easy to talk to and Angie learned she was studying fine arts and was a potter, but at the back of Angie’s mind was the image of Will and Portia together somewhere behind the curtain. Five minutes later Kate waved towards the stage.

“Here they come.”

Will and Portia were coming down the stairs at the side of the stage. She was still in her long stage dress. He had his arm around her shoulder; she had an arm around his waist. They were laughing and chatting, totally at ease in each other’s company. Angie despaired.

“Hi everybody. Did you like the play?” Portia disengaged herself from Will and she and Kate exchanged air kisses. “And is this Angie, the girl I keep hearing about?” Angie received air kisses too. “Can’t give you a proper kiss, Angie, I’ve got a face full of gunk.”

Close up, theatrical make up was less than flattering, thick powder and rouge giving the girl a doll-like appearance quite different from the lovely Amy as seen from a distance. The smell was less than pleasant too. From now on Angie would view movie love scenes with a new eye. Portia’s friendliness was disarming and so far she had displayed no signs of jealousy. Angie wasn’t sure if she should feel reassured or insulted. She reminded herself that Portia was an actress so was good at masking her real emotions. Maybe once she got Angie alone she’d explode in jealous rage. More friends joined the group or left. More air kisses and congratulations.

“Gotta change,” Portia said. “Will, show Angie backstage if she hasn’t been before.”

Backstage was not what Angie had expected. People scurried about moving props, and Angie remembered that Michael was one of the backdrop painters. Though less real in close -up they showed that he was an accomplished artist. The wardrobe room was another eye opener. The clothes, both period and modern, were old and musty, some patched and sewn, but good enough to fool an audience from a distance.

Will knocked on a door marked ‘Dressing Room. Ladies’. The door opened a fraction and Michael looked out. When he saw Will and Angie he opened it wider.

“Come in. The girls are dressed.”

Inside, a middle-aged woman and two girls in their twenties were just leaving. They introduced themselves with reassurances of meeting afterwards at the restaurant. Michael had said that the girls were dressed, but Portia wasn’t. The Victorian dress was piled at her feet and Angie was surprised to see that she had worn denim shorts beneath it. Between shorts and bra was an old style corset, and to her even greater surprise the person unlacing it from behind was Michael, while his girlfriend sat on the dressing table chatting with Portia. Theatre people, it seemed, got used to seeing each other half-clothed.

“Thank God that’s off,” Portia gasped as the last of the laces came loose. “I could hardly breathe. No wonder they used to faint.”

When she leaned over the table to wipe off the remaining make-up the pattern of welts the corset had left were clearly visible on her back. The Olive Street Theatre took historical authenticity seriously. As she dressed they chatted about the performance and agreed it had been a success. First nights, Kate informed Angie, were where the faults showed up. This time it had gone off almost without a hitch. When Portia was ready she hustled everyone out of the dressing room.

“Let’s go eat, I’m starving,” she said. “And I want to sit next to Angie.”

 

 

 

Chapter 21

That night, except for a few moments of dream-saturated semi-consciousness, Angie didn’t sleep at all, yet when daylight came she was too fizzed up to stay in bed. Still in her blue polka dot pyjamas and bunny slippers she went downstairs and made herself breakfast. She ate her cereal standing at the kitchen sink gazing through the window at the garden. It had rained during the night and her mother’s beloved azalea and camellia bushes were soaked, their leaves glossy. Somehow that gave her pleasure in a way it hadn’t in the past. She did not share her mother’s enthusiasm for gardening. Gardens were for boring old people with boring interests, like her parents, yet now the world seemed lush and beautiful in ways she had not noticed before.

She was confused because this feeling that life was wonderful was countered by a more negative sense that the reality was different and that she had no reason to be so upbeat. Yes, she’d spent an evening with a boy she was becoming obsessed with but they had not been alone. She’d done something different and enjoyed it and met interesting people, but one of them was Will’s girlfriend. Portia had behaved as if she really liked her, but did she really? After all, she was an actress and used to pretending.

At Traders Angie had found herself seated between Will and his girlfriend. “I want to sit next to Angie,” Portia had said, and ordered the seating that way despite Angie’s reluctance to separate the two. It was as if Portia was competing with Will for her friendship. Angie was at a loss to understand. There seemed three possible scenarios; one, Portia was as naïve as Will; two, she was unable to conceive the possibility of Angie being a rival; and three, it was all an act, and when they were alone together the true, evil Portia would make her appearance.

The dinner had been noisy and lively and the general consensus was that the first night’s performance had been a success. Suggestions for changes to the Sunday matinee performance were discussed. Angie could contribute little but was asked her opinion anyway. When the ‘shop talk’, as they called it, changed to more general topics Portia spent most of the evening in deep conversation with her new best friend Angie.

The five of them went home in Michael’s car, and to Angie’s consternation, when they reached her house Portia insisted that Will should walk her to the front door because it was dark. No, no, Angie said, there’s no need, there’s a security light. To her relief the light which was normally temperamental came on. Before putting her key in the door she turned and waved and saw them wave in return before driving away.

What if he’d ignored her and walked her to the door, and given her a goodnight kiss? He wouldn’t of course even if he’d wanted to, not with his girlfriend watching. But what if …?

#

 

Later that morning Angie fielded frantic phone calls from her three best friends. Did she really go out on a date with Will Cassidy? Was Portia Wright there? Omigod omigod I can’t believe it. Brooke who lived closest was at the front door ten minutes after hanging up. With a conspiratorial air she took Angie’s arm and steered her upstairs and into the bedroom. She closed the door.

“Everything. I want to hear everything. What did Portia Wright say? Was she angry?”

“No, she was friendly. I don’t think she thought I was on a real date with Will. And I want to know who told you I was there. I didn’t.”

“I know you didn’t, and I’m supposed to be your best friend. How do you think I feel?

I always tell you things. Ashley’s sister was there with her husband and recognised you. She said to Ashley ‘that friend of yours from school, Angela, was at the play, with this really attractive young man.’ I knew it had to be Will Cassidy.”

For the next half hour Angie was pressured to relate every detail of her evening, which Brooke heard with expressions of either shock or delight. She was only released when her mobile phone rang. She answered it.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Angie, it’s Will.

“Oh … hi.” The thrill of hearing his voice was like a jolt of electricity. She hadn’t expected to hear from him until school the next day, if then.

“Listen, Angie, Michael is free today and he’s keen to go back to Darlinghurst. Is The Voice back in your head right now?”

“No.” The Voice had not made an appearance since Wednesday when, with Will and his brother, she had discovered his whereabouts.

“Well it doesn’t matter. We don’t need him. We know where he is. What about you? Can you come?”

“Um … yes.”

“Ok, be ready in fifteen minutes. See Ya.”

When she replaced the receiver she found Brooke looking at her expectantly.

“Who was that?”

“Will.” Telling Brooke gave her a thrill of triumph, as if she had achieved something praiseworthy. Her friend reacted predictably.

“Angie! You know what it means when a boy phones you the next day. It means he really likes you. I mean REALLY likes you.”

“No it doesn’t,” Angie said, although she hoped it did. “It’s nothing like that. There’s something we have to do, that’s all.”

“What? What do you have to do, and why with him? Come on, I always tell you everything. I don’t keep secrets from you, do I?”

It was true. Normally the two friends trusted each other with their most intimate thoughts, yet this was something Angie felt reluctant to share. She evaded the question while at the same time knowing she was hurting Brooke.

“Look, I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. I’m going somewhere with Will and his brother. I have to get dressed.” She rummaged through her wardrobe, wishing she had for once listened to her mother’s complaints about the mess she kept her room in. Brooke, who normally would be full of advice about what to wear, was oddly silent and Angie knew she was feeling hurt.

“I didn’t know Will had a brother,” Brooke said after a while. “Is he cute?”

“Forget it. He’s seven years older than you and he has a girlfriend.”

“I like older men.”

It made both girls laugh but nothing more was said for the moment as Angie chose and discarded items of clothing one after another. With minutes to spare before Will and Michael were due to arrive she chose denim shorts and a pink top, then had to change again because it was too much like what Brooke was wearing. At last, in jeans and a blue T-shirt she rushed downstairs in time to see Michael’s car through the window as it pulled into the driveway. At the same time a frantic knocking at the front door told her that other visitors, not unexpected, had arrived.

Ashley and Cindy started talking before the door was fully opened. A barrage of questions engulfed Angie, a repetition of Brooke’s but coming from these two even more animated. At the same time the girls’ attention swivelled from Angie to the occupants of the car in the driveway, especially when one of those occupants emerged and stood waiting with the car door open. Both Cindy and Ashley gasped.

“Omigod, Angie, Cindy squealed. “That’s Will Cassidy.”

“And there’s somebody else in the car.” Ashley said in a hoarse whisper. “Oh no, Angie,

I bet it’s Portia come to have it out with you.”

“Stop it Ashley! It’s just Will’s brother. Look, I’ve got to go.” She elbowed her way past them onto the porch.

“But what happened last night? We heard …”

“You can get the whole story from …” Angie was about to indicate Brooke but when she saw her best friend looking like a child being deserted by her mother, she changed her mind. “…from me, later. See ya.”

Brooke’s expression underwent an abrupt and happy change when Angie grabbed her hand and hurried down the steps to the car. Halfway down Brooke turned back to the other two girls and said with a mischievous grin “Double date.”

Embarrassed at her friend’s cheekiness Angie was intensely grateful to her when, instead of hopping into the back seat, the door to which Will was holding open, Brooke dived into the front seat next to Michael, leaving Will no choice but to share the back seat with Angie. Michael gave his newest passenger a quizzical look which she returned.

“Hi, I’m Brooke. Where are we going?”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22

At first conversation in the car was stilted and kept to small talk until Michael and Brooke discovered that both of them knew about Angie’s ‘voice’. Then Brooke reverted to her usual bubbly self and all four relaxed and discussed what their plan of action should be. Once in Darlinghurst they parked the car in a side street and walked to the hospital. At the door to the neurology department they still hadn’t agreed on how to proceed until Michael took upon himself the role of leader.

“You girls scout around for something to cover our street clothes so we don’t stand out. There’s got to be a storeroom for uniforms somewhere. Will, show me where the coma unit is. We’ll all meet back here.”

They hurried off in separate directions. After five minutes of dodging staff and opening doors Angie found a room that proved to be where items destined for the laundry were kept. The two girls emerged a moment later looking like regular hospital employees in hairnets and pink uniforms and with bundles under their arms. Will and Michael were waiting at the rendezvous point

“Just our bad luck, Angie,” Will said, grimacing. “It’s the same security guy at the door.”

“Oh no. Did he recognise you?”

“No, I only opened the door to the corridor a few centimetres. There were nurses going in and out too. What are you two dressed up as?”

“Cleaners, I think, or the ones who bring the patients their meals and stuff.”

“Nurses’ aides?” Michael suggested. “Was there anything for us? I have to warn you I don’t look good in pink.”

The girls pushed the bundles they carried into the boys’ arms.

“White coats and hairnets,” Brooke said. “You can play doctors.”

The double doors nearby opened and a party of patients’ visitors arrived. Michael hustled his three companions into a room with equipment for sterilising surgical tools. “We want to look like staff members but we don’t want to be asked medical advice.” He and Will donned the white coats and hair covers and inspected each other.

“I might get away with fooling people I’m a doctor but you look too young, Will.” Michael reached inside his shirt and pulled out a stethoscope. “I lifted this off a tray as I went past. How good a look did the security guy get of you two last time?”

“A real good look,” Will said. “He’ll recognise us for sure.”

They were silent for a moment while they considered this obstacle. Then Brooke held up one finger to indicate an idea had occurred to her. She reached across to a bank of plastic drawers and pulled open one marked ‘Safety glasses”. She handed out a pair each to Angie and Will.

“Put these on. They don’t know me and Michael so we won’t need them.”

Angie and Will removed the safety glasses from their plastic wraps and put them on. With those and the hairnets they felt they looked different enough to fool the guard at first glance.

Michael gave them all a last look over. “You three will need something, some prop to fit the parts you’re playing. I’ve got my stethoscope. Here Will, take this.” He handed his brother a stainless steel tray. “Angie, grab a couple of those clipboards. Brooke … ok, that’s fine.” Brooke had commandeered a cleaner’s trolley.

As they walked back to the neurology department Will looked down at the utensils on his tray.

“What’s this stuff I’m carrying? Just in case someone asks me.”

His brother inspected the items on the tray, a metal bowl with stainless steel utensils. “Looks like shaving gear. If you’re asked to perform a pre-op pubic shave try not to cut anything off.”

Michael’s words and Will’s woebegone expression caused the girls to double up with laughter. They tried to suppress it so as not to draw attention to themselves. Will nudged Angie.

“While you two were playing dress ups I found something interesting.” He led them into an empty corridor. “See that door at the end? It’s the one we saw in the coma unit when we were talking to the guard.” This gave them two possible entries to the coma corridor. She noticed too that the corridor they were in had men’s and women’s rest rooms and a cleaner’s room. An idea began to form in her mind. She told the others.

 

Chapter 23

The man guarding the coma room door yawned and stretched in his chair. Bored, he watched the young cleaner who was mopping the corridor floor, a round faced kid about his own daughter’s age. Like his daughter she’d probably left school at fifteen and would be a single mother in a year or two. It must be her first day on the job, he thought, because he couldn’t remember seeing a cleaner as young as this before. The others all seemed to be middle-aged like him. She wasn’t much good at her job either, sloshing water about while leaving some parts untouched. Oh well, not his business. Her supervisors would put her straight. He yawned again and stretched

The young cleaner continued mopping, a vague pink-uniformed blur in his peripheral vision. As she mopped closer he prepared to lift his legs so she could mop under them, but she appeared to think she’d done enough. Sliding the mop into its slot on the side of her trolley she attempted to lift the bucket to the trolley’s tray, but stumbled. The bucket slipped off the tray’s edge and emptied its contents into the man’s lap.

The young woman squealed, the man cursed. Ignoring her embarrassed apologies he leapt to his feet and shook out his trousers in a vain attempt to remove the warm soapy liquid. The smell of disinfectant was almost overpowering. The door from the neurological department opened and a young man in a white coat and wearing a stethoscope around his neck poked his head in.

“What’s all the noise? There are patients next door who need quiet you know.”

“I’m so sorry,” the clearly distraught young cleaner wailed. “I’m so sorry, I … I was trying to lift … Oh, I’m so sorry.”

The soaked guard waved his hands to indicate she should stop apologising. The poor girl was close to crying and it wasn’t as if he was hurt, just angry and wet through and stinking of disinfectant. The young doctor came into the room.

“Are you all right? Not burned?”

“No, no, it was barely warm.” He flapped his trousers again uselessly. “Damn, I’ll stink of this stuff for the rest of the day. I don’t have anything to change into.”

“I’ll get some scrub pants sent up for you and send the ones you’re wearing to the laundry.” He turned to the cleaner. “I’m sure you can manage that, can’t you”

The girl nodded numbly. She started to wheel her trolley away but something on it caught the doctor’s eye. He stopped her and picked up a canister from the trolley and read the label.

“I really, really hope you didn’t put this in the water. Tell me you didn’t.”

The girl stuttered a yes.

The doctor took a sharp breath through his teeth. “Oh, shit, shit, shit!” He slammed the canister down onto the trolley and grabbed the soaked man by the arm. “Look, get those wet trousers off right away and wash your legs and groin thoroughly for five minutes at least and you should be ok. There’s a men’s room just outside that door. Don’t waste any time. I’ll explain when you get back.”

The confused and now worried guard still hung back. “I can’t leave this room unguarded …”

The doctor gave a cynical laugh. “Why? That patient’s not going anywhere. He’s in a coma. Hurry. If you’re that worried about your job I’ll stand guard for you until you get back”

Holding the drenched cloth of his trousers as far away from his skin as possible the now thoroughly concerned guard allowed himself to be shuffled through the door. Within seconds of it closing it opened again and two figures, one in white, one in pink, rushed in. The ‘doctor” held open the door to the coma room for them.

“It wasn’t locked. Find out what you can then get out fast.” The moment Angie and Will dashed into the room Michael closed the door after them. He turned to the cleaner. “Brooke, Take your time about getting those scrub pants for him.”

#

 

So this was what the man inside her head looked like. While Will used his phone to photograph anything of interest Angie studied the comatose man’s face. It was an interesting face, what she could see of it. He had either been involved in a fight or an accident judging by the bruises on his forehead and cheeks, the blackened eyes and puffy lips, and the bandage across his nose. His head too was swathed in bandages and what little hair was visible was dark brown. The earlier estimate of mid twenties seemed too young but the battered and unshaven face made it hard to judge his age. The shoulders poking out of the hospital gown were broad, and from the outline of his body under the sheet she judged him to be tall. He was attached to various medical devices which gurgled and beeped.

Moving to the foot of the bed she studied the medical charts. Now she would no longer need to call him ‘Voice’ because he had a name; Daniel Mark Bowen. That discovery seemed important to her, but for Daniel Mark Bowen knowing his name might be a huge step in his recovery. The next contact he made she’d call him Daniel, or Danny, or Dan. She held up the top chart so that Will could photograph the second page. They were taking too long she felt. She knew it for certain when she heard Michael’s voice, deliberately loud for their benefit.

“What, you’re back already? You can’t have done a proper job of washing that stuff off. You need to flush at least five minutes. Come on, I’ll help you …”

“Forget it, Mate. I can’t leave this room unattended.”

“Ok, I’ll stand guard a bit longer while you …”

‘” I said forget it. And by the way, you can tell your cleaning girl I got somebody else to find these scrub pants for me, thank you. Now move aside while I check on my charge.”

Inside coma unit 1 Angie and Will stared at each other helplessly.

 

 

Chapter 24

 

Unable to prevent the man from entering the room Michael tried to stay calm as he followed him inside. He only had time to glance around him as the guard ushered him out again.

“So, everything ok?” he asked as the other closed the door.

“You’re the doctor. You tell me. He’s breathing and there are no alarms going.”

Where the hell could Will and Angie be? Except for the patient the room had been empty. From the corner of his eye Michael caught sight of Brooke beckoning to him through the partly open door to the corridor.

“Right, well … I’ll get on with my work and leave you to yours, eh? Catch you later.”

He followed Brooke to their prearranged meeting place where he was shocked and relieved to find the other two waiting.

“How did you …?”

“Half of one wall was a sliding door,” Will said. “It connects with the other coma room.”

“We just made it in time,” Angie added.

Michael made an elaborate play of wiping his brow. “Phew! That was close. Ok, let’s get something to eat and we can discuss what we’ve learned so far. Brooke, you’d better take those scrub pants to that guy just for appearance sake. We’ll be in the cafeteria.”

 

#

 

Brooke hurried back to the cleaner’s room and put on the pink uniform again then found a pair of scrub pants in a laundry basket. She was eager to get back to the others so she could hear what Angie and Will had found out but she knew Michael was right. The security man already thought she was an idiot for dumping water on him. Failure to provide the scrub pants she had been sent for would only confirm that view. Besides, the more familiar she became to him the greater chance of her learning why he was there.

“Here they are,” she blurted as she reached his chair. “Sorry I took so long, I didn’t know where to … oh, you have a pair already.”

The man smiled. Clumsy she might be but he could see she was embarrassed. No point in making things worse for her. “Yes, an orderly got some for me. Thanks anyway.”

Brooke decided he wasn’t as scary as she’d thought. Best to keep him onside anyway.

“I’m so sorry I caused you so much trouble. I hope I didn’t burn you.”

“No, no, don’t worry about it. That young doctor was wrong about the stuff you put in the water. No harm done.”

“Oh good. Sorry again. Well, I’d better get on with my work. See ya.”

While she was speaking a man in doctor’s whites and stethoscope entered through the corridor door. He was a tall man with a short black beard and black hair. He looked around him with a baffled expression.

“This place is a maze and that’s the truth. This is the fourth wrong door I’ve gone through.”

“What you looking for?” the security man asked.

“Cafeteria. I’m dying for a coffee. Been in clinic for five hours without a break.”

“Back through Neurology and through the doors at the far end. Turn first left, that’ll take you to the elevators. The cafeteria’s on the ground floor.”

‘Thanks,” the doctor said with a sigh. “I’m new here, filling in.” He looked at the sign on the door. “Coma, eh?” He made a tutt-tutting sound. “Why the security?”

Brooke was almost out the door but checked herself. Here might be a chance to learn why the coma patient was under guard. She pulled a duster from a pocket of the uniform and began dusting.

“There’s good reason,” the guard said.

“Yeah? Well, I’d better not pry then,” the doctor said. “None of my business. Must be dull work though, sitting there all day. Don’t you get a break?”

“I wish,” the guard said with feeling. “Can’t wait for my relief to get here so I can get a coffee and something to eat.’ He looked at his watch. “Only another two hours.”

“I’ll bring you one on my way back. What do you take, milk and sugar?”

“Thanks a lot. That’d be great. A cappuccino, two sugars. Here, I’ll give you the money …”

“When I get back, mate. Shouldn’t be long.”

As the doctor headed for the door the guard thanked him again. Brooke made a play of finishing her dusting, and with a ‘çatch you later’ she hurried back to the cleaner’s room where she dumped the scrub pants and uniform. She hadn’t learned anything from their conversation except that there was ‘good reason’ for the security. She found the others in the cafeteria lining up to order.

The black-bearded doctor, now dressed in a brown leather jacket, was carrying a mug of coffee to a table. She pointed him out to Michael who was in line in front of her.

“ That guy’s a doctor. He was talking to the security man but they didn’t say anything new. He’s taking a coffee to him.”

Angie and Will were served first and left to grab a suitable table. A few minutes later Brooke and Michael joined them. To Brooke it looked like they had been quarrelling for Angie was turned away from Will and frowning. Brooke was about to ask what was wrong when Will made a sign for silence.

“Shush, Brooke. Angie’s voice is back.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 25

 

“I got inside the room,” Angie was saying. “I saw you. I know who you are. Your name is Daniel Bowen.”

The Voice repeated the name slowly as if tasting an unfamiliar food.

“You're twenty-eight -years-old,” Angie continued, “and you've been in a fight or an accident or something because you're all bruised and bandaged up.”

Daniel Bowen

“Daniel Mark Bowen. Maybe they call you Danny, or Dan. I read the medical stuff on the end of your bed but I didn’t understand most of it. Some I did, like contusion and trauma, but it was mostly long medical words.” She was trying to read from Will’s phone screen.

Daniel. Danny … WAIT! Angie, something’s happening! Memories!

“Really? Oh wow!”

“What?” Brooke demanded. “What’s he saying?” Will shushed her and Angie ignored her.

‘Oh wow’ is right Angie! Kid memories! I’m getting them, one by one. Our house, mum and dad. Like walking through fog and clearing it a bit at a time. Sand, beach. I lived at the beach. Angie you’ve done it, girl! There’s more and more keep flooding in. Oh this is terrific!

Angie turned to the others, her face lit with pleasure. “He remembers things. He says memories keep flooding in.”

“That’s great news,” Michael said. “Ask him if he remembers the accident.”

Angie started to ask. “Um, Voice …”

Call me Danny. Who’s the new guy? I see your friends Brooke and Will but I don’t know this one.

“That’s Michael, he’s Wills’s brother.”

Well tell Michael it was no accident. They beat me nearly to death and the last thing I remember is a gun pointed at my head. Since I’m in a coma I guess it got fired.

The shock on Angie’s face caused a cannonade of questions. She felt Brooke pull on her sleeve and, wide eyed, she turned to face them again. “He got beaten up and shot in the head.”

Now it was her companions’ faces that showed shock

“Shit!” Will exclaimed. “”Who did it? Does he know?”

Yes, I do know. And if they find out they didn’t succeed in killing me they’ll be very worried indeed.

Angie repeated his words to the others.

“Remember me saying he might be a gangster?” Will said quietly. “I think I was right. Bet he’s a member of a bikie gang. That bikie war is in the news every night.”

Tell your friend Will I heard him, and he’s on the right track, except I’m not with those guys.

Michael snapped his fingers to get their attention. He was watching the group of men at another table. “Brooke, that guy who just joined that group, the bearded one in the leather jacket. Isn’t he the one you said was talking to the security guy?”

Brooke looked at the man he indicated. “Yes, he’s a doctor.”

“And you said he took a coffee up to him?”

“Yes, why?”

Michael turned around to include the others. “Because when he bought the coffee he took it to those guys and the bald one in the suit and tie put something from a little bottle into it.” Now your ‘doctor’ just came back and gave them a five-fingers sign which I think means ‘five minutes’.”

“So?” Brooke said. “Five minutes to what?”

“Five minutes to when whatever is in that coffee takes effect. Angie, quick, look at those men so your voice guy can see them.”

Angie did as she was asked. Immediately Danny Bowen swore.

Angie, that’s them, the ones who tried to kill me!

What!?”

Bastards. They’ve found out I’m still alive. What was it Michael just said about them?

“They put something in the security guard’s coffee.”

It’s drugged. Get back to the coma room fast and stop him drinking it. Tell him why then get yourself and your friends as far away from him as you can so you don’t get hurt. You’ve only got five minutes.

Breathlessly Angie relayed this to the others. Will and Brooke gasped. Michael stood up.

“Let’s go.”

They took the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. When they rushed into the coma area the guard was already fast asleep, head leaning against the wall, mouth open. The empty coffee mug dangled from one finger.

No point trying to wake him up. Those guys know what they’re doing. Is the door locked?

It wasn’t earlier,” Angie said. She pushed through the door, followed by the others. Michael locked it behind them.

 

 

 

Chapter 26

Well, it’s not the face I used to see in the mirror but that wreck looks vaguely familiar so I guess it’s me.

“They really hurt you.” Angie looked down at the battered and bandaged features with a feeling of pity mixed with love. It was strange to think that the voice in her own head was coming from inside this man’s head. Will and Brooke searched for something to barricade the door.

They did a good job on me, didn’t they? But not quite good enough, and if I get through this … But Angie, there’s a reason they want me dead, it means they get away with a big crime, and that can’t be allowed to happen. I need you to do something for me before you run off. You got a phone on you?

“Yes.”

Angie, I shouldn’t do this for several reasons but since it’s not likely I’ll survive this I must get a message to someone right away. I’m going to give you a number to ring. Don’t write it down and don’t repeat it no matter what. When they answer just say this one word; ‘Myrmidon’. They’ll say ‘who for’, and you must answer ‘Nestor’. Got it?

“Yes. Who’s Nestor?”

Never mind who. He’s someone who knows all about this and he’ll do what’s needed. He’s good. When Nestor answers I want you to say ‘a message from Agamemnon’. He’ll know it’s from me. I’ll tell you what to say next.

Angie dialled the number as Danny repeated it. This all felt like she was playing a part in a spy movie and she felt a little foolish. When she got through a woman said. ‘Central’.

“Myrmidon,” she said as instructed.

“Who for?”

“Nestor.”

There was a click then a different dial tone, then, “Nestor here.”

“Agenon …um .. Ago …” With further prompting from Danny she said it correctly. “Agamemnon.”

“You’re not Agamemnon.” The male voice had a familiar ring as if she’d heard it many times before.

“No, but I’m passing on a message from Ag …” She paused, frowning “… Dad?”

There was another pause from the other end of the phone line. …Angie?”

“Dad! What are you …”

“I don’t know how you got this number, Angie, but you’d better hang up quick. This is a secure line.”

Tell him you know all about Project Myrmidon.

“I know all about Project Myrmidon.”

“Angie, hang up. You don’t know what … Wait, Who told you about Project Myrmidon?”

“Danny Bowen.”

“No he didn’t. The Danny Bowen I know is in no shape to tell anybody anything.”

“Dad, those voices I hear in my head, it’s him. I don’t know how but he can talk to me even though he’s in a coma. I’m with him now at the hospital. He wants me to tell you something.” She repeated phrase for phrase as Danny spoke them in her head.

“This is what he’s saying, ‘Jack August shot me. … He’s at the hospital at this moment and he’s on his way to the coma room with three of his men … The stuff is coming in at Port Kembla on a container ship called the Aeolus … and it’ll be stored in a garage at 118 Shoal Street, Hurstville’.”

‘Nestor’ may have had his doubts but he treated the information seriously.

“Tell him help is on its way. Ok, Angie, if you really are at that hospital get away from it now There’s going to be violence. Do you understand? Right away!”

“Yes Da … er … Nestor.” She hung up.

As if a voice in her head wasn’t weird enough discovering her own father was involved in this somehow made it to the realms of the surreal. Why would he be involved? Danny Bowen’s words sounded like the script of a television cop show, but her father wasn’t in the police force. He had some boring office job in the Department of Traffic.

Traffic! Drug traffic! Omigod, Dad’s job has something to do with drugs! Not for an instant did she consider which side of the law he was on. He was with the good guys too. She did however consider blurting out this totally unbelievable discovery to the others but something told her this was information she should keep to herself. When she’d blurted out ‘Dad’ the others had been too busy to hear her. Now they all wanted to know whom she’d telephoned.

“Danny gave me a number to call. The police, I think. They’re on their way. Da .. um… the guy on the phone said we should get away from here quick.”

“He’s right, “Michael said. “Those guys must be nearly here.”

“But we can’t leave,” Brooke cried, wide-eyed with panic. “Angie’s Voice said they’re going to kill him.”

For God’s sake! They’ll kill you too if you get in their way. Angie, do what your da … what Nestor told you. Get away from here. You can’t save me. Leave the building, now!

She looked at the others. “Danny said they’ll kill us too.”

“Oh shit!” Will exclaimed. “What have we got ourselves into?”

Angie saw the same fear in the eyes of her friends as she herself felt. Weeks ago when The Voice had first made its appearance she’d been afraid for her sanity. Now she was afraid for her life. For a long moment all four stood around gripped by indecision. Then Michael made a sign for quiet. In the ensuing silence footsteps were heard outside the room.

“That’s them,” he whispered.

Leaving that way was no longer a possibility. Angie’s eyes swivelled to the sliding door that led to the other coma room. She saw from Will’s expression that he had the same thought. He tiptoed to the door and slid it wide open.

“We can get out this way but what about him?” He indicated the occupant of the hospital bed.

Angie let her hand drop to cover that of Danny Bowen. She felt a huge surge of affection and tenderness for this man who had become such an intimate part of her life.

“You go. I’m not leaving him.”

Go! Never mind me! Get out!

She ignored him. Looking up she found Will’s eyes locked on hers.

“If Angie’s staying so am I.””

“Me too,” Brooke said.

Michael said nothing. He was listening to the sounds from the corridor. The door shook as someone tried it. They heard someone say quietly “It’s locked.”

“Move aside,” a second voice said. “I’ll force it.”

“No,” a third said. “The noise will draw attention. The security guard has the key. Get it.”

It would only be a matter of moments before the door was opened. The shuffling sounds from outside told them that the men had moved the unconscious security man to search for his keys. The jangling sounds told them they had found them. A key scraped into the lock. Will and Michael braced themselves against the door. Despite shivering with fear Brooke added her own weight. Desperate defence plans skittered through Angie’s head, none of which was remotely likely to succeed. She ignored Danny Bowen’s increasingly frantic pleas for her to leave while she struggled to think of something. She looked again at the sliding door.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 27

 

The four friends looked at the man in the bed.

“We can’t move him, Angie,” Michael said. He’s connected to life support.”

Angie was thinking the same thing but it was difficult to concentrate while Danny Bowen was yelling inside her head for her to leave. Michael was right, the tubes that connected the patient to plastic bags of antibiotics and the leads that connected him to the beeping machines were what was keeping him alive.

“Won’t he die if we move him?” Brooke said.

Oh for God’s sake guys! I’ll be dead anyway as soon as they get in. But if it’s the only way to get you out of here … Angie, the little oxy tank and the bags on the pole are on wheels and can be moved with the bed. You can unplug the electric stuff. It’s just monitoring and recording brain activity and pulse and heart and can be plugged back in later. If you’re going to do it make it quick!

“Danny said to unplug the electric stuff,” Angie said. “The rest will move with the bed.”

None of them wanted to be the one who took that chance. They hung back in indecision and panic while key after key scraped into the door lock and the men outside muttered and cursed until one said … “I think this is the right one.”

All four rushed to the bed at the same time. Michael switched off and disconnected the monitors. Will and Brooke pushed the bed while Angie rolled the antibiotics pole beside them. The rubber wheels made no sound as they glided the bed across the room and through the sliding door into coma room number two. They slid the door closed behind them and locked it. Almost at the same time they heard the door to the first coma room unlock and open. A man’s voice swore.

“It’s empty! He’s not here!”

“He’s got to be,” another said. “Why else would they have a guard on the room?

“To make fools of us.” The first replied. “I bet he was never here at all.”

“Why would they do that? They aren’t even aware that we know he’s still alive. We wasted our time. Let’s get out of here, Boss.”

The four in the second room released their pent up breath as they heard the retreating footsteps. The relief was short lived.

“Wait.” The voice of authority, the boss. He had stayed in the room as the others left. When the other men returned he said, “That’s a door.”

Angie cringed. The man must be looking at the sliding door that he would at first have taken for a wall. She wondered if he was the Jack August Danny had mentioned. A moment later she jumped as the door shook slightly.

“This is locked too. No keyhole though, just a catch, but it’s locked from the other side. He’s in there. I’m sure of it. Force it open, but try not to make too much noise.”

For several moments the door shook as someone tried to break the catch. A knife blade poked through the gap and jiggled about but the door remained locked.

“For God’s sake, put the silencer on and shoot the damn thing open.”

No second warning was needed. Despite the feeling that this couldn’t really be happening all four teenagers threw themselves either side of the door. An instant later they knew it was real. There was a loud ‘phut’ and the door lock shattered and pieces of metal and wood shot across the room.

The door slid open with a bang and four men made to enter. They stopped.

“Bloody Hell! There are kids in here!”

All four men hesitated. The bald one in the suit was the first to recover.

“Never mind them,” he roared. “That’s Bowen in the bed. Do what we came for.”

The four friends backed towards the bed, blocking the men’s path. Angie stared at the gun that was now pointing at her. It had a fat silencer attached. The man pointing it was the bearded, leather-jacketed one who had pretended to be a doctor. Time seemed to stand still. This was no movie scene; she really was looking into the round hole at the end of a gun barrel. She threw herself onto the unconscious Danny to protect him. The bald man, almost spitting with frustration, roared at his men as they struggled with Michael and Will and even Brooke in their efforts to reach the man in the bed.

‘Kill the damn lot of them, you clowns! We didn’t come here to be stopped by a bunch of bloody kids!”

The bearded gunman forced his way past his struggling companions. He seized Angie by the hair and dragged her off the bed. At the same time he pointed the gun at the bed’s occupant. In fear and rage Angie lashed out with her foot. Her toe crunched hard into the man’s groin. The diverted bullet tore through the mattress beside the patient’s head as the gunman collapsed in agony. The gun dropped from his hand to the floor.

Her kick unbalanced Angie and she fell backwards. The bald man was quick. He dived on the gun and, his face contorted with fury, pointed it at her. Angie tried to scramble to her feet but she knew there was no chance of escaping the bullet. She closed her eyes and held her arms in front of her face as if that would stop it. She felt the thump of fear as she heard the gun fire.

 

 

 

Chapter 28

She flinched at each of the three deafening explosions. There was no pain. Was this what it felt like to be shot? Would the pain come next after the numbing shock? It struck her then that the sound had been different this time; ‘crack’ instead of ‘phut’. She could hear other noises too, a lot of shouting. She opened her eyes.

The bald man lay on his face, his body still, blood pouring from his side. The room was full of men with guns who shouted and threatened. The bald man’s three accomplices huddled in a corner with hands held high. Will, Joanna and Mike, also with hands up, stood to one side, pushed there by the newcomers. One of the men, thick-set, heavy-moustached, hurried to the bed and inspected Danny Bowen.

“He’s alive.” He helped Angie stand. “Are you Angela?” When she nodded he looked at the other three young people. He beckoned them over. “You kids stay over here out of the way. Any of you hurt?”

All of them stated that they were not hurt, although Will and Mike both had bloody noses and Joanna was holding her stomach. They hurried around the bed to Angie, solicitous for her safety. She told them she was fine although she felt as if half her hair was torn out.

Two nurses and a doctor stood at the door, eyes and mouths agape, drawn either by the explosive sounds of gunshots or by alarms that surely must have been set off somewhere when the medical equipment was disconnected. Too shocked and frightened to either enter or flee they stood rooted to the spot until Moustache Man beckoned them in.

“Check the patient. He’s been moved.”

The three medical staff hurried to the bed. The older of the two nurses berated anyone and everyone as she plugged the disconnected leads into their respective monitors, though her anger might have been to cover her fear.

“Who’s the idiot who moved him? You might have killed him.”

“Wrong, Madam,” Moustache Man replied. “Moving him is what saved his life.”

The nurse continued her tirade as she completed the connections and checked the monitors to her satisfaction. The other nurse and the doctor busied themselves checking the patient’s pulse and breathing and adjusted the drip from the antibiotic bags, gingerly sidestepping the dead man and the spreading pool of blood. The remaining would-be assassins, now handcuffed, were marched out of the room. While his colleague took photos of the scene, including the dead body, Moustache Man discussed the condition of the man in the bed with the medics. When he was satisfied he turned and faced Angie and her friends. He looked at them for a long moment then shook his head. A grin spread on his face.

“I don’t know whether I should give you lot a clip across the ear or a hug. You’ve got some explaining to do that’s for sure. You got mobile phones?”

All four nodded.

“Hand them over. Don’t worry, you’ll get them back. I’ve got to make sure you don’t talk to anyone else just for the moment.”

While they were handing over their phones the sound of rushing footsteps was heard. A moment later two men exploded into the room, one of them a very familiar figure to Angie. Father and daughter rushed into each other’s arms.

“Your girl’s ok, Anthony,” Moustache Man said.

Mr Hope released his daughter and looked her up and down. “Is that true, Darling?”

She nodded. He looked at the other three in turn and saw the blood on the boys’ faces

“What about you?”

They too assured him they were not badly hurt although Brooke looked about to burst into tears. When he reached for her she ran into his arms and the tears flowed. With the two now shaking girls in his arms Mr Hope looked at the other man and nodded towards the bed. “Him?”

“He’s alive,” Moustache Man said, “thanks to some quick thinking by this lot.”

Mr Hope looked at each of the four young people and shook his head. “My God, if you only knew how lucky you are and what you got yourselves involved in. Heaven knows how I’m going to explain this to your parents.” He turned to the other man. “Thanks, Paul. Can you finish up here? I’ll fill you in on what I’ve learned later. In the meantime I’m going to find a quiet place to have a little talk with our young friends.”

 

Chapter 29

 

Mr Hope hustled the four into an empty waiting room and, following them inside, locked the door behind him. He took a seat and indicated they should do the same.

“First I’ll need your phones.” He held out his hands.

“That other guy, Paul, took them already,” Will said.

“Good. He’ll check your last few messages then give them back. We need to ensure what just happened is kept to ourselves.” He studied the four dishevelled teenagers before him. “Are you sure none of you is badly hurt?”

The little room, meant as a retreat for worried or grieving relatives of patients was thoughtfully provided with a box of tissues with which Will and Michael were cleaning their bloodied faces, and Brooke drying her eyes.

“Michael said. “We’ll live.”

“What about you girls? Did you get hit on the head, Angie?”

She was rubbing her head where the man had grabbed her hair. “That guy in the leather jacket, he dragged me off the bed by my hair. I was trying to protect Danny. Dad, you never told me …”

“I never told you a lot of things, Angie. Brooke, are you all right?”

“I’m ok now. I’ll be fine once I stop shaking.”

“Me too!” Angie agreed with fervour.

“That’s understandable after what you’ve been through. All of you are lucky to be alive. I’m a bit shaky myself if it comes to that. If I’d known you were going to risk your lives like this …” He shook his head. “Ah, I’m getting too old for this kind of thing.” He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. “Now I’m going to tell you a little of what’s going on, but not everything. You must promise not to repeat it to anyone. It’s important this is kept out of the media as much as possible. That won’t be easy; a shooting inside a hospital. Our disinformation guys will concoct a story for you.”

“Ok,” he continued, “this is it in a nutshell; the unconscious man was working for us.” He held up a hand to forestall the question in their eyes. “Never mind who ‘us’ are. He infiltrated a world-wide drug syndicate but they found him out. They shot him. Dead, so they thought, but he survived, and we knew that if he should ever recover from the coma he’d provide us with details we need to close them down for good. We thought he was safe enough, but somehow they found out he wasn’t dead, and what just happened was their attempt to make sure he didn’t get to tell what he’d learned. Thanks to you they didn’t succeed.”

He paused. “Which brings up a lot of questions.” He stood up. “Angie, come over here a moment.” He led her to a far corner of the room where he bent down and whispered in her ear. “That thing you said on the phone about being in some kind of mental contact with the coma patient, sounded too far-fetched to be true. But I can’t think of another explanation. Are you still in contact with him?”

In the excitement she’d failed to notice that the voice was no longer in her head. “No, he’s gone. The contact comes and goes. But It’s true, Dad. It wasn’t tinnitus. I’ve been talking to him for weeks. I thought I was going crazy at first, but look, it led me here.”

“Next time he connects let me know right away, Ok? Doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of the night I want you to tell me so I can talk to him. How much do your friends here know about this …this talent of yours?”

“Everything. But nobody else does, except you.”

“Ok.” He took her back to the others.

“Well, truth is stranger than fiction, they say, and I’m not saying I’m totally convinced about this story, but I need to hear about Angie’s connection with the man in the bed. So let’s start with you, Angie. Tell me everything, from those first noises you heard in your head right up to your hospital adventure. I’ll get your stories too, Brooke and Will, and .. .”

“Michael. I’m Will’s brother.”

“Ok, Michael. Afterwards you’ll all be briefed on what to say to the press. Right, you’ve got the floor, Angie.”

 

 

 

Chapter 30

The next day was a school day and Angie and Brooke had to walk the gauntlet of questions from Ashley, Cindy and others. Where had they gone with Will Cassidy and his brother? To hospital to visit a sick relative of the boys. That response had been suggested by the man who had briefed them on how to deal with such questions.

“But why you two?” Ashley had whined.

“Why not us two,” Brooke replied, and the subject was closed.

But Angie discovered others were now aware of her ‘date’ with Will on the Saturday evening.

“He’s Portia Wright’s boyfriend,” Kim McNamara said. “Didn’t you know that?”

Angie replied that yes she did know that and that Portia had actually been there and she, Angie, thought of Will simply as a boy who was a friend and not as a potential boyfriend. The fact that a moment later Will sought her out to speak to did nothing to allay the gossip. He caught up with her on the way to class and leaned down close to whisper.

“Exciting day yesterday?”

“Omigod, wasn’t it?! You didn’t tell anyone did you?”

“No way. I’d have to kill them.”

After the terrifying episode at the hospital Angie’s father had driven his daughter and Brooke home while Will had gone with his brother. Mr Hope spent the entire journey stressing how important it was to keep what had happened to themselves. To satisfy their curiosity he answered more questions. ‘Project Myrmidon’ was the code name for a team of government agents. The name came from Greek mythology and meant ‘ants’. The Myrmidons were the warriors led by Achilles during the Trojan War. Each team member used as a code the name of a Greek or Trojan hero, such as ‘Nestor’ (Angie’s father) or ‘Agamemnon’ (Danny Bowen).

Now, with her mind still racing with scenes from her terrifying ordeal it wasn’t easy for Angie to concentrate on her work, and the fact that the first class was maths, her least favourite, only made it worse. Thankfully she was not called out to the blackboard this time so Mr Slattery had no opportunity to humiliate her, but he wasn’t about to let her get away unscathed.

“Before you all go, here are your test results.”

As he handed Angie her result he didn’t look at her but she saw the ghost of a smirk flash across his face. She saw the reason for the smirk when she looked down at the paper; FAIL.

How could he!? She’d got every question correct. Sure, she’d cheated by letting Danny Bowen help her but Mr Slattery didn’t know that. Tears of anger and hurt welled up so that she had to hide her eyes with her hand. When she wiped the tears away she found Will had turned around in his seat and was looking at her with concern.

“Slatts is a complete bastard,” he said in a low voice full of bitterness.

She mouthed “Fail. You too?”

He nodded. “Don’t let it upset you.” His hand reached out and squeezed hers, an action which did not go unnoticed by the occupants of nearby desks. “We’re going to fix him, Angie.” He smiled, but there was no mirth in it.

#

 

Mrs Lambert took some time studying the two test results in her hands. At last she pushed them away, leaned back in her chair and looked up at the two young people standing in front of her.

“Well, I know my mathematics and these are certainly not fail results. You answered every question correctly Angie, and Will, you only had one wrong answer. By any standards you both should have been given high marks. I can’t understand why Mr Slatttery marked them as ‘fail’?”

“It’s his idea of revenge,” Will said.

“Revenge? What for?”

“He thinks we reported him to the headmaster for something,” Angie said.

“Did you?”

“No.”

“I threatened I would,” Will said. “I should have.”

“For what?”

“For humiliating Angie in class about the voi … the noises in her head.”

Mrs Lambert was visibly shocked. Surely the poor girl had enough of a problem having to deal with tinnitus. “I’m sure there’s some simple explanation. Your Maths teacher can be a little intimidating I know, but I find it hard to believe he would do that.”

“He’s always looking for ways to humiliate students.”

Mrs Lambert sat and thought. She pushed her chair back and stood up quickly, causing her double chin and large bosom to wobble. “I’m glad you came to me first before going to the headmaster.” She picked up the two test papers. “You two get back to class. I need to talk with my colleagues.”

 

Chapter 31

At morning recess Angie and Will again found themselves as allies, this time against a different foe.

As soon as she saw Todd Norton and his goons Kurt Miller and Jason Swindon ahead of them she had a presentiment of trouble. Todd was lumbering in his usual gorilla-like way down the school’s main corridor and forcing oncoming students to detour around him or suffer the consequences. Most did, knowing him. Those not quick or wary enough found themselves bounced off his shoulders as they passed him. Angie saw Kurt Miller look behind and notice her and Will. He nudged Todd and whispered something. Todd half-turned, grinning, then turned forward again and slowed down.

“Uh oh,” Will muttered. “Better not get too close, Angie.”

He took her elbow and led her to one side to pass but Todd saw it and edged over. As they passed he shoved his shoulder against Will’s. But Will had prepared his stance and to Todd’s surprise it was he who bounced away.

“What …! Hey Cassidy! Watch where you’re going!”

Will, safely past with Angie, turned and walked backwards ahead of the three boys. He spread his arms and smiled as he gave a fake bow of apology.

“I’m soooo sorry, Todd. How clumsy of me.”

“I’ll make you sorry, you shithead!” Todd was red-faced and shaking with rage and embarrassment. “I’ll beat the shit out of you when we get outside.”

“And that will solve all your problems, will it?”

“It’ll solve one of them, you.”

Angie tried to hurry Will away but he shook her hand off. Still walking backwards he continued to taunt the bully.

“You’re forgetting something, Norton; I’m not one of those little kids you like to beat up. If you force me to fight I’ll give as good as I get. But not here. In Cooper’s gym without these two boofheads to help you.”

“You’re on!” Todd hi-fived his two mates to show his gleeful anticipation.

Will finally allowed himself to be dragged away by Angie. He was grinning, his eyes shining. Angie wondered if he was as frightened as she was, whether his heart was beating as fast as hers. She knew Todd better than Will did. If there was a fight he’d make sure it wasn’t a fair one, and it wouldn’t be in the gym. Not for the first time she wished her sister had better taste in boyfriends. Perhaps if she told Sophie about the times Todd had tried to feel her up when Sophie wasn’t around.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the noise of violent argument from a room further up the corridor, the principal’s office. A half-dozen students stood frozen in fascinated curiosity nearby, their eyebrows raised high in shock at the sound of several teachers yelling at each other. Through the frosted glass that comprised the upper part of the walls and door silhouettes gesticulated, and more than once the word ‘unprofessional’ was shouted. The door burst open and the bird-like figure of Ms Chase, the home economics teacher hurried out looking flurried and frightened. She caught sight of the students.’

“Go on! Get away to your classes. Nothing here to concern you.”

The students began to disperse. Whatever was happening inside the room had been too much for nervous little Ms Chase. A male teacher poked his head out, saw the students and went back inside. He closed the door but not before Angie recognised one of the raised voices as Mr Slattery’s. It seemed Mrs Lambert had made good on her intention to gather her colleagues against a maths teacher they liked as little as his students did.

#

The story of the teachers’ quarrel flashed around the school in minutes but when Mrs Lambert entered the classroom to an expectant hush she began the English lesson as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t until the end of the period that they learned anything

“Before you go to your next class I have something to tell you. Mr Phillips has asked me to take over your maths classes for the time being.”

Gasps and mutterings. One girl ventured a question.

“Is Mr Slattery ill, Miss?”

Mrs Lambert covered her mouth and coughed. “Mr Slattery will not be returning to the school.”

It took some time to restore order.

 

 

 

Chapter. 32

Since the encounter with Todd in the corridor Angie had pleaded with Will not to go ahead with the planned fight. Will was tall and athletic but his successes on the sports field were due to skill rather than brawn. Todd on the other hand was built like a bull. She had seen Todd fight another boy once. It had been brutal and she’d had to look away. Hers was not the only voice pleading with Will once the news spread, but nothing anyone said worked, and Angie’s and Will’s developing friendship was tested when her pleading made him angry.

“Look, Ange, It’s not as if I want to fight, but if he attacks me I’ll have to retaliate. If it has to happen it’s better in the gym, with rules and witnesses.”

He was talking about the gym he belonged to where he studied martial arts, but she knew Todd wouldn’t wait for that. Angie even tried to enlist his girlfriend, her own sister.

“I’ve tried, Ange, honest. We had a big fight about it but Todd won’t listen. I like Will Cassidy, he’s nice and I’m glad he’s your friend, but he’s going get himself killed if he doesn’t back off. Todd won’t let it go now he’s been embarrassed in public.”

 

#

 

On the Thursday, in the same corridor where on Monday they had heard the staff arguing, Angie, Brooke, Ashley and Cindy were walking together when once again the principal’s office became the scene of shouting, and this time, violence. The door burst open and Todd Norton exploded into the corridor struggling with two uniformed policemen. The handcuff attached to one wrist jangled as it swung. Todd wrenched himself free and bolted. The policemen gave chase. Todd was faster and might have got away if he hadn’t crashed into the group of girls. The four girls screamed. Todd grabbed the nearest, Angie, and swung her around to use as a shield. Angie felt a knife blade touch her throat.

“Don’t be stupid, son,” one of the policemen said. He was big and dark-jowled and looked more than a match for Todd, but Todd had the knife, and a hostage. The second policeman was

smaller and slimmer but looked agile and determined as he angled for position. Todd swung Angie about like a rag doll as he faced off his would-be captors.

“Son, let her go,” the bigger officer pleaded. “You’re making things worse for yourself.”

The sharp blade was at her throat, yet Angie’s primary emotion was less of fear than of disbelief. These things didn’t happen in real life. Men didn’t point guns at you. School mates didn’t hold you hostage with a knife at your throat. But the first had happened and now the second. But fear was there too. She felt the signs, the dry mouth, her skin tingling and perspiration cold on her face and neck. Now she saw Will appear out of the crowd.

“Norton, take me instead. Let Angie go.”

Intense with worry, Will was actually offering to take her place. She made signs to him to back away. To her own surprise she was more worried about him coming to harm than she was for her own life. From the corner of her eyes she saw her three girl friends with their hands covering their mouths and their eyes popping in fright. She heard a thud. The knife dropped from Todd’s hand and he fell, dragging her down with him.

Instantly Will and the officers leapt on him, releasing Angie. She was dragged to her feet and found herself in the arms of a girl who hugged her as if she wanted them to be one person. When she moved her head to look she saw it was her sister. Sophie looked her in the eye and grinned.

“Nobody hurts my little sister.” She looked down at the unconscious Todd, now with both hands cuffed. “Certainly not you, you piece of shit. I’m done with you.” She looked with a surprised expression at the heavy canvas book bag with which she’d hit him, and gave it a couple of swings. “I can’t believe I did that.”

Angie gave her a long hug.

 

 

 

Chapter 33

 

“Todd was involved in that drug ring,” Mr Hope said. “In a very small way, of course. That is, if you can call selling drugs to school mates a ‘small way’.”

He was seated at his cubby hole desk in the hallway. Angie sat on the desk top. The desk had recently taken on a new aura of interest for her since knowing her father’s real occupation. The phone in his briefcase for instance, what strange cryptic messages had it handled over the years?

“What will happen to him?” Angie asked.

“Juvenile prison probably. He’s been charged with more than drug dealing. Kidnap, threatening with a weapon, they’re pretty serious crimes. Stupid boy, he could have made things so much easier for himself if he’d just gone with the police officers.”

“ ‘Stupid boy’ is right. I’m so glad he’s out of our lives now. Sophie’s dumped him.”

“And that pleases me and your mother very much. Sophie can do much better than Todd.”

Angie reflected that her sister was probably at that very moment busy snaring someone better than Todd. Sophie had plenty of admirers.

“How did the police find out about him?”

“He was just one of a hundred or more names we got from the information Mr Bowen gave you. Some of them well-known. That stuff that came in on the ship, the Aeolus, was taped inside car parts and stored at the Hurstville address he gave you. From there it went to several second hand car sales yards for further distribution. Todd’s uncle’s yard was one.”

“So that’s how Todd could afford that car.”

“Right, a car he may lose if it’s deemed proceeds of a crime.”

He stood up and shooed Angie off the desk so he could pack away his papers.

“I think I just heard the postman. You want to check? I’ll put the kettle on for Mum. She’ll be home any minute.”

Angie went out to the mailbox and returned a moment later with a handful of letters and junk mail. She leafed through them disinterestedly until one item made her raise an eyebrow.

“There’s a letter for me.”

Mr Hope remained facing away from her as he prepared the tea. “Oh, really? I wonder what it could be.”

As did Angie. The number of letters she had received in her life she could count on one hand. She looked at the letterhead. “It’s from the governor-general’s department. Why would the governer-general be writing to me? Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Puzzled and a little apprehensive she slit open the letter. Her father’s light tone made her suspicious. “You know what it is, Dad, don’t you?”

He turned around. He was grinning. “I think so. And I expect your three friends may be receiving similar letters.”

Intrigued beyond measure Angie slid the cream-coloured single page from the envelope. When she read it her eyes and mouth opened wide. She tried to speak but her tongue seemed out of her control for a moment.

“I don’t believe it!” she spluttered. “I’ve been recommended for a bravery award!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 34

 

Some weeks later Angie learned something she had been longing to hear. Soon after arriving home from work her father took her aside.

“You’ve been asking nearly every day about Mr Bowen’s progress so at last I can give you an answer. He woke up from the coma a few days ago.”

Angie clapped her hands and gave a whoop. “Is he all right? Does he remember … things? She meant did he remember her. He had not made mental contact since that awful day at the hospital and she missed him. Incredibly she’d grown to love the man who had put her through so much worry and danger.

“He seems fine. They don’t come much tougher than Danny Bowen. I bet there aren’t too many who recover from a bullet in the brain. They tell me he should be able to get out of bed in a few days. He’ll have to take it easy for a while though, he has broken ribs that aren’t quite healed. He wants to see you, by the way.”

“He does?” She tried not to show how pleased that made her feel.

“Yes, and he’s not the only one. Angie, the agency I work for want to talk to you about this ability you have, this telepathic thing between you and Danny.”

“I don’t think it’s there any more.”

“They want to do some experiments on you both anyway. I wanted to refuse but they’ve assured me there’ll be no invasive stuff. They’ll attach electrodes to your head to read brain patterns. I’ve insisted that if we go ahead with it I must be there at each session. Your mother and I have agonised about this but we’ve decided it’s up to you. What do you think?”

Angie thought that as long as the sessions didn’t involve needles or scalpels she’d be happy to oblige. And it meant she’d get to spend time with Danny.

 

#

 

The middle-aged blonde woman who introduced herself as Jane Tyler-Watson looked too sweet and gentle to be the head of an intelligence agency. She put Angie at ease with her friendly manner, seated her in a comfortable armchair and provided soft drink and biscuits. In the chair next to Angie sat her father. The only other person in the room was the man her father, at the hospital, had called Paul, the one she had nicknamed Moustache Man. He had been introduced as Mr Kyriakis.

“I’m so pleased you’ve agreed to do this for us, Angela,” Ms Tyler-Watson said. “As I told you, there’s nothing to worry about. Your father will be with you. We’ve scheduled the tests for a time that won’t interrupt your school work but we’d like to start as soon as possible, today if that’s all right with you.”

Angie nodded. “Ok, but Danny hasn’t contacted me for a while. I don’t know whether it still works.”

We won’t know until we try.

She started. “Danny! You’re back!” She indicated the fact to the others by pointing at her head and grinning like a mad person. The three adults looked at each other and smiled.

Yes, and it feels good too. I’ve missed you, Angie.

“Me too. I mean I’ve missed you too. How are you feeling?”

Not too bad, considering. Should be up and walking about soon.

“When can I see you? I can’t wait.”

How about right now? Look behind you.

She spun around. Danny Bowen was in a wheelchair near the door. Angie leapt from her chair and ran to him. It seemed as natural as anything to hug him as if he was a long lost friend. He returned the hug but winced.

“Woah Angie! I might break. I’m still a bit frail.”

It was the first time she’d heard his real voice. She released him and backed away to look at him. Except for the one around his head most of the bandages had been removed. He had been shaved and his hair had been cut. His eyes, which she was seeing for the first time were a beautiful dark brown and, she couldn’t help thinking, kind of sexy.

“Sorry. I’m so glad we can still do that mind talk stuff. I wish I could do it like you though, in my head, without talking.”

“Maybe you can. We’ll have to experiment with it. And if you can’t I think we could work together very well anyway. I suspect we’ll be in demand as a team. Do you fancy working as an agent once you leave school?”

The thought had not occurred to her. He had said it with a grin but maybe he meant it. She bit her lip at the thought; Angela Hope, secret agent. She turned to the others in the room.

“Can we start the tests now?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 35

 

“… and I now call upon those four young people to come forward to receive their awards.”

The Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House was thronged with the family and friends of those to be honoured. Angie mounted the stage surprised how calm she felt. She had been worried her face would be bright red at being the centre of attention, but finding out that she was just one of about a hundred award recipients and that the audience was by now as bored as she was helped calm her nerves. She resisted the urge to curtsey as she accepted her medal and scroll from the smiling Lady Governor-General then continued across the stage as she’d seen others do. Behind her she heard the names of her three friends called in their turn. The cheering and clapping which had earlier been so enthusiastic had by this point of the evening dwindled to polite applause except for that of the friends and families. She gave a little wave to her own family as she returned to her seat. One by one Will, Brooke and Michael rejoined her and the four friends examined their medals and unrolled their scrolls.

After the ceremony refreshments were provided in another room for the honours recipients and their guests. Angie’s guests were her mother, father and sister, Brooke’s her parents and little brother. Between them Will and Michael had their mother and father, two grandparents, Kate and Portia. During refreshments Angie met the boys’ family for the first time and discovered they were friendly and easy to talk to.

She should have felt on top of the world. Her school friends, her extended family, her neighbours and a fair chunk of the general public knew that she had done something praiseworthy and brave even if the details had been half-fictionalised for their benefit, thanks to the intelligence agency to which her father belonged. That same agency might one day be her employer and in the meantime was where she spent time working with Danny Bowen. Also, a hated teacher had been triumphed over and, now that Todd Norton was out of the picture, someone she loved no longer need get into a fight or get hurt.

And she did love Will. She knew that now. It wasn’t just a schoolgirl crush; it was something much more; she was in love, that thing she had once dismissed as something made up for movies and romantic novels. She knew now that love was a realisation. Love dropped on you as if from a great height, ambushed you and filled you to overflowing. And once it was in you nothing you could do could chase it away, not ever. But love was bitter, or at best bittersweet, when the object of affection was not similarly smitten. The best she could hope for was to keep Will as a friend, but even that was unlikely. At some point Portia would realise that Angie’s feelings for Will were deeper than that. Angie would be instantly cut off, never to see or speak to Will again. Will and Portia would in all likelihood one day become engaged, then married, and have beautiful children.

She was cut off anyway. Like the dream she had where she was separated from him by a glass wall, unbreakable and unscaleable. Or that other dream in which she and Will were in separate elevators in a tall building where each elevator serviced alternate floors so that neither could open to the same floor as the other and there were no stairs to connect them. In the dream she and Will rode the elevators endlessly in a vain effort to reach each other.

After the refreshments the four friends and their guests drifted out to walk along the Harbourside Terrace of the Opera House as others already had, out of the air-conditioned cool of the iconic building’s interior into the balmy warmth of a Sydney summer evening. They leaned on the wall of the Northern Broadwalk and admired the breathtaking view of the world’s most beautiful harbour. Shivery ladders of light cast by the illuminated city buildings stretched and flickered across the water. To her left the huge bulk of the harbour bridge glowed silver, with the fairy lights of North Sydney’s tall buildings shining beyond it, and beneath the bridge the brightly lit smiling face that was the entrance to Luna Park. Ferries glided across to Manly and other points on the harbour leaving phosphorescent wakes on the blackness of the water. Angie felt someone lean on the wall beside her.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes.”

The voice was Will’s, and he wasn’t looking at the view but at her. The rest of their party had moved further around The Broadwalk.

“Angie.”

She looked up at him but he turned away and looked at the harbour. He seemed troubled.

“What’s wrong?”

He cleared his throat. Catching her eye he looked away again. He cleared his throat again.

“It’s just … there’s something I have to tell you, Angie.

Was this it? We can’t see each other any more? Portia’s getting upset? I like you a lot but …?

She steeled herself in case of tears.

“Just tell me, Will. Get it over with.”

He took a deep breath. “Something’s happened to me.”

She looked up at him in alarm. What had happened? Had he been diagnosed with some horrible disease? Was he moving to the other end of the world?

“What? What’s happened to you?”

He closed his eyes and took an even deeper breath and held it. Then let the words out in a rush. “I seem to have fallen in love with you.”

She felt her heart thump, and keep thumping. Her lower lip began to tremble. Goose bumps rose all over her.

He was looking into her eyes with an intensity that startled her. “I can’t stop thinking about you, Angie. You’re on my mind all the time so I can’t think straight.”

Her lip only stopped trembling when he took her face in his hands and kissed her.

At first Angie stiffened. Portia and his parents were only a few metres away. Then she let herself go and floated into a place she’d only daydreamed about. It even struck her that she might be dreaming this. After an age their lips separated. Both of them were breathing heavily. Will stared into her eyes

“You feel the same?” He seemed surprised.

Her heart still thumping Angie gulped a barely audible but emphatic “Yes!”

This time when they kissed she pulled away. “But …”

He looked worried. “No buts.”

“But … Portia …”

“Portia noticed the signs before I did. She thinks it’s wonderful. She likes you a lot.”

“But …”

“Please stop saying that word.”

“B … I … I thought you and Portia … I mean, I pictured you two getting married one day and having children and …”

“What!?” His eyebrows shot up and a grin split his face. That’s not going to happen.”

“It’s not? But … you love her.”

“That’s true, although we fight a lot. But I think there are laws against marrying your first cousin.”

Now it was Angie’s eyebrows that shot up. “Cousin!?”

“I thought you knew. We’ve always lived in the same house until a couple of years ago. Portia and I are more like brother and sister.” He grinned. “No need to cry about it.”

She hadn’t noticed she was crying until he said it. Now she blinked the tears away, the happy tears. She leaned her face on his chest and he held her close. Any further tears would be on his shirt. In the distance they heard Brooke calling them.

“Hey, you two, come on. We’re all leaving.”

They pulled apart, turned and gave her a wave. Brooke stared at them for a moment, then waved and walked after the others. Angie looked up at Will.

“Let’s stay a little bit longer.”

He nodded and they both turned and gazed at the beauty of the harbour.

 

 

THE END

 

 

(34,000 words)

 

Will B Riley

 

Email: [email protected]

 

 

 

About the author

Will B Riley is an Australian author. He lives on The Central Coast near Sydney, Australia with his wife Patricia.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Will B Riley 2015-09-08

 

Dedication To my wife Pat, for everything

 

 

Acknowledgements

Special thanks are due to

Astrid Carney, my cover model.

Cara Rixon and Emma Le Quesne, who read the story first

And Michael Riley, who puts my books to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Stranger In My Head / Riley


The Stranger In My Head

That noise in Angie’s head; it’s tinnitus, the doctors say, but Angie knows better. It’s a voice, a man’s voice. Whose voice is it? Where is it coming from? Those are the very questions the voice itself wants to know. It wants Angie’s help and it’s telling her to do things she’s scared to do. As if school bullies aren’t enough for a shy fifteen-year-old to deal with, not to mention her feelings for that cute new guy in her class, and friends who think she’s crazy, she’s now expected to find the voice’s owner by following the direction it’s coming from. Either the voice is real or Angie is insane. She’ll need to solve the mystery if she wants her mind back. But her search will reveal more than she expects and will place her life and the lives of her friends in mortal danger. Does she have the necessary courage? Well, with the cutest guy in school on her side, maybe, but that boy has a stunning girlfriend who might just get in the way. And if Angie should succeed in finding The Voice, what then?

  • ISBN: 9781310558269
  • Author: Will B. Riley
  • Published: 2016-05-09 05:20:15
  • Words: 34083
The Stranger In My Head The Stranger In My Head