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Read the first chapter here:
Mum and Dad should have been back hours ago. Their beautifully restored country home now lay dark and cold; the only light came from the thin, blue beam of Maria’s torch. Maria and Emily were alone. Maria was tired, angry and tense with the fear that had started living in her stomach. She stood in the doorway of Emily’s bedroom, glaring fiercely at her younger sister through the shadows. “I’m not asking you, Emily, I’m telling you – if Mum and Dad aren’t back by morning, we’re going to Granny and Grandpa’s.” At 16 years old Maria was strikingly attractive, with short, dark hair and a pretty face. She also had a determined air, which Emily, the younger by two years, could not match.
There was a tense pause. Emily looked up at her sister from her fluffy pink beanbag seat, her pale face reflecting the dread that Maria felt but refused to show. “But we can’t go,” she objected. “Mum said we had to stay here till they got back from fetching Granny and Grandpa.” Her voice wavered and she quickly wiped away a tear before it fell. Her long, fair hair hung loose, unkempt.
Maria stood there fuming, her dark eyes blazing with anger and hidden fear. Why did little sisters have to be so infuriating? As if there weren’t enough problems! “I know they told us to wait here, stupid, but they said they’d be back in a couple of hours – that was at breakfast! Something’s gone wrong – maybe one of them is ill or something. We can’t just wait here forever!”
“But it could be dangerous!”
“Dangerous or not, we’re going.” There was a pause, heavy in the suffocating, silent darkness.
“How are we going to get there?” Maria relaxed a little. Emily was giving in.
“We’ll cycle. I’ve checked the bikes. They’re OK.”
“But that will take ages!” lisped Emily through her brace. “What if . . .” Her lower lip trembled, and new tears started to trickle down her cheeks. “What if we get there . . . and they’re not there?” Maria closed her eyes in exasperation.
“Then we come back of course!”
“If they come back tonight, we won’t have to go?”
“You’re very quick.”
“But . . . suppose we miss them?”
“We leave a note, so they know where we are.”
“But what if . . .”
“Oh shut up with your ‘what ifs’, Em,” snapped Maria.
“But what if Mum and Dad go to the cottage without us?” continued Emily, wiping away the tears that carried on dripping down her pale face.
“Oh for goodness sake stop blubbing, you know they wouldn’t leave their precious little Emily! Of course they wouldn’t go without us – without you, anyway.” Maria could feel the irrational anger rising to hide her own fears. “We’ve got to go and see what’s happened to them. It’ll only take a couple of hours, max.”
“I don’t want to go,” said Emily stubbornly, through her tears. “I know Mum and Dad will be back.”
“You don’t know, you hope!” retorted Maria, losing her grip on the rising tide of her emotions. “They might even be dead for all you know!” That finished Emily off. She ran out of the room past Maria, sobbing and slammed the bathroom door behind her.
Maria was shocked at her own words. Maybe their parents really were dead. That thought had been hovering at the back of her mind, but saying it seemed to make it more possible somehow . . . Yesterday, she didn’t even like them. That was yesterday. She walked slowly to her own bedroom, sank down on to her bed and looked round in the darkness, her emotions reeling. Here was everything she had wanted; widescreen telly with DVD, CD player, the best speakers . . . but it didn’t mean anything now. None of it worked, anyway, without electricity. Maria shivered. Fear, anguish, misery and a feeling of being utterly alone swept over her and as there was nobody to see, she allowed her own silent tears to fall.
Just one day since the bombing. One long, long day.
Maria had watched those awful planes slice up the gentle March day, with her family. They were at their home, just a few miles from Sonbridge in the picturesque Kent countryside. The girls had not long returned from school. Dad, who despite having a leg in plaster was trying to do some gardening on his day off, had excitedly shouted to everyone to run out and look at the planes. He thought they were practising for an air display. How stupid! At six o’clock on a Tuesday evening! To assert her independence, Maria hadn’t gone out, but she had watched from her bedroom window.
The sinister cloud of black war planes had swept low over the North Downs like an angry swarm of demons. They had seemed to rip the sun and sky to shreds as they tore overhead. The deafening scream of the engines was terrifyingly exhilarating – Maria had had to put her hands over her ears; even the house had shuddered in protest. She saw her family laughing in the garden below, with their hands over their ears too. And, in just a few seconds, the planes had gone.
Then they had dropped their deadly cargo on London. On London! It was so unfair! Everyone knew about terrorists, but nobody had said that this could happen. There had been no warning, nothing. Nothing but the planes. Maria shivered as she remembered the distant explosions echoing over the valley. The very hills shook, as if recoiling in terror at what was being done to them. Maria’s family had all watched the mushroom of smoke rising from the direction of London in silent horror. The grey cloud had ascended like an evil genie, powerful and triumphant. Then the demon planes had returned; empty, black and evil, screaming victory. It had felt like a dream, a nightmare.
Maria had joined the others in the orange-and-white kitchen. She hated the colour scheme and didn’t like her family much, but for once she didn’t want to be alone. Mum tried to make a cup of tea, but there was a power cut, so she poured glasses of apple juice instead. In the far distance they could hear the sirens of emergency vehicles and the whirr of helicopters. “God knows what they’ll find,” muttered Dad, shaking his head in disbelief. Mum raised her eyebrows. That meant, ‘Not in front of the girls.’ But they had both heard him, anyway.
The phones and the TV were dead. Mum searched for and found an old radio in the cupboard under the stairs, to try to get some news. The batteries were weak – amazing that they worked at all – but there was just an awful crackling noise where most of the channels should have been. Mum persevered. Everyone tried their mobile phones, but there was no signal. Mr Kingsley-Brown, the family’s only neighbour, came round and talked quietly in a corner with Dad for a few minutes, then after shaking hands with Dad as if he might never see him again, he zoomed off in his shiny red Porsche.
Maria sat in shocked silence with Emily at the breakfast bar, wishing she hadn’t lent her iPod to Michelle, listening to the ghastly rising and fading of the crackling on the radio as Mum tried to find a clear signal. A thousand thoughts jumbled through her mind. Was this the beginning of a real war? What was going to happen now? A couple of hours ago she had been on the bus with her friends! Could life really change this much in such a short time? Lots of people must have died . . . She was waiting for it all to end, or to wake up, or for Dad to laugh and tell them that it was all just a joke, that it wasn’t real.
But suddenly a voice on the radio was real, and out of the confusion came reports of central London being razed to the ground. London – nothing but a pile of bricks.