Extract

I didn’t want to go. I was terrified of the place. But what excuse could I have given to Mr Tucker? Told him I was scared of an old ruin? That would have gone down like a lead balloon.

The trouble is I’m really sensitive to places. Sometimes I’ll go somewhere and it’ll give me the creeps. I don’t always know why. It just does. It’s kind of an odd thing so I’ve always kept quiet about it. I haven’t even told Cal or Ellie, and they’re my best mates.

Mum and Dad have always known about my fears, of course. But I didn’t tell them about this latest one. Dad was under big pressure at work. There was a strike on the way and as the union’s chief negotiator, he had plenty to think about.

And Mum – well, I wasn’t going to tell her. She frets too much about me as it is. Hopefully, I thought, Dad would be too busy worrying about work and Mum would be too busy worrying about him for either of them to notice there was anything wrong with me.

Odette would be different. There was never any fooling her. It’s weird having a sister like that. She’s only seven but she always seems to spot when I’m having a shivery moment. She’ll tell me I’ve got one of my ‘funny faces’, as she puts it.

But she can’t stop me having these moments. No one can. I just have to face them when they come. And I didn’t like the feelings I was getting right now.

‘Totnes Castle was built in the early months of 1068,’ Mr Tucker was telling the class, his bald head shining in the hot June sun like a bright, crinkly egg. ‘It’s what’s called a motte and bailey castle. The Normans had lots of them built all over the country.’

He beamed round at us.

‘This huge mound we’re on is called the motte and it’s made up of pounded earth and rock. And as you can see from up here on the wall walk, we’ve got a commanding view over Totnes and the river Dart.’

I glanced warily over the town, feeling more uncomfortable than ever. My family had only been in Totnes for nine months but I’d felt funny about the castle right from the start. I had no wish to be here.

But history teachers like Tucker are driven men. And if you’re doing the Norman Conquest in class and there’s a Norman castle right on your doorstep, then you try standing up and telling him you don’t want to go.

He was right about one thing, though. The wall walk was the highest point of the castle and it did give you a terrific view of the town below.

I could see the houses and shops on either side of the high street and, further down the hill, the tower of St Mary’s Church. To the right of that was the archway of the old east gate.

And far below, at the bottom of town, I could make out Totnes Bridge and the river Dart, licking its way towards the sea like a huge, grey tongue.

I was just hoping Tucker might cut this lecture short – since it was so hot – when he went blundering on.

‘That walled area of grassy land at the base of the motte is what’s called the bailey. As you can see, it’s now an empty space but in Norman times it would have had lots of things in it. Who can tell me some of the buildings we might have found there?’

‘Burger King, sir?’ said Cal.

‘Very funny, Calvin.’

‘Lodgings, sir,’ said Ellie.

‘Good!’ said Tucker. ‘What else?’

Silence.

‘They’d have had to eat, wouldn’t they?’

‘A kitchen, sir!’ said Gemma.

‘Well done, Gemma. What else?’

Another silence.

‘Come on,’ said Tucker. ‘I know it’s hot but switch your brains on. There’d have been lots of other buildings in the bailey. The place would have been a hive of activity.’

The only activity I could think of right now was the movement of sweat down my neck. But it wasn’t from the heat. It was from the deepening unease I felt as the atmosphere of this place started to work upon me.

Something was wrong here. Something was terribly wrong. But I couldn’t pick up what it was. I felt a growing desire to run and keep running, anywhere just as long it was away from this place.

‘Still waiting,’ said Tucker brightly. ‘Yes, Damien?’

‘A hall, sir.’

‘Good. And?’

‘Stables,’ said Lawrence.

‘Storerooms,’ said Melanie.

‘That’s better,’ said Tucker, wiping his forehead. ‘And there’d have been other things too, which we’ll be talking about later when we get back to school. But let me just tell you a little bit about how the castle has developed over the centuries.’

Again I felt the atmosphere of the place work upon me. The desire to run grew stronger. I felt as though someone I didn’t know was close to me, very close, and watching me intently. Yet I could see no one apart from the familiar faces from my class, and Mr Tucker. I looked at him, willing him to take us away from here.

But he went on, unaware of my distress. I tried to push aside my fear by focusing rigidly on what he was saying. He was a good history teacher, as long as you didn’t stand too near him when he was in full flow. If you did that, you got caught by the little jets of spit that came whizzing out through the gaps in his teeth.

But even Mr Tucker – with all his enthusiasm – couldn’t make Totnes Castle sound anything other than completely boring.

As far as I could tell from what he was saying, nothing exciting had ever happened here in over a thousand years. No one had laid siege to the place, tried to blow it up, take it over or do anything to it. Of all the castles in England, it had to be the one with the sleepiest history. So why was I feeling so frightened?

I glanced round at the rest of the group. They looked hot and tired, though they were all dutifully listening. I caught Cal’s eye and forced myself to smile at him. He grinned back. Tucker picked up our little exchange at once.

‘Do I have your full attention, Will?’

‘Yes, sir,’ I answered. ‘Motte and bailey castle dating from the early months of 1068.’

‘And who had it built?’

‘The Normans, sir.’

‘Thank you. But pay better attention. You too, Calvin.’

And Tucker went rambling on. But this time I didn’t hear a word. Something had suddenly happened to me.

Someone had stepped inside me.

That was the only way to describe it. It was like a shiver that ran through every part of me – my muscles, my bones, my skin, even my brain.

I saw Cal watching me strangely and I could tell he knew something was wrong. The rest of the class went on listening to Tucker and seemed unaware of what was happening to me. I was breathing hard now, my mind on this shivery feeling inside me. Then I heard a voice. It seemed to come from inside my head.

‘Help me,’ it said.

I stiffened and looked around me. For a moment the old stone walls of the castle seemed to darken, as though a shadow had fallen upon them. What was happening? This was meant to be a bright June morning.

I took a step to the left and to my relief felt the shivery presence leave me. The walls brightened again and I breathed slowly out.

Tucker was telling us to go off and find the things on our worksheets. ‘Meet by the gate in half an hour,’ he said. And the group split up. Cal came straight over.

‘You all right, Will?’ he said. ‘You went white just now.’

‘I’m OK.’

‘Are you sure? Your face seemed to sort of change. Almost like you were another person.’

I looked away. That was just how it had felt. Like I was another person. I hoped the shivery presence wouldn’t come back.

But it did. Only minutes later. Most of the group, including Cal, had gone down to look at the bailey but I was still up on the wall walk. And there it was again – the cold presence, the urgent voice inside me.

‘Help me,’ it said.

It was a boy’s voice. It sounded like someone about fourteen like me. It even felt like my own voice. But that was daft. My lips weren’t moving. Then suddenly – to my horror – they were.

‘Help me,’ they said. ‘Help me.’

‘Talking to yourself again, Will?’ said Ellie, sauntering past me. She didn’t stop and the voice spoke again through my lips.

‘Help me.’

The dusky shadow was falling again, this time over the whole town. The outlines of the houses and shops, the east gate, the river Dart – all seemed to tremble and lose their shape. In spite of the heat, a chill started to creep over me. I began to shake. Then I heard another voice.

‘Will!’

I turned and saw Cal standing below me in the castle keep. To my relief, the darkness seemed to clear, the heat of the day returned, and the shivery presence slipped away once more. Cal called up again.

‘Come on, Will! We’re all waiting for you!’

‘But Tucker said to meet in half an hour.’

‘You’ve been up there forty-five minutes! I’ve been sent to get you. Hurry up or you’ll cop it!’

I stared down at him. Forty-five minutes? That couldn’t be right. Tucker had only told us to wander off a few minutes ago. Or so it felt. I hurried down the steps to join Cal. He glanced at my worksheet and frowned.

‘You haven’t done any of the tasks,’ he said. ‘What have you been doing all this time?’ He looked me over suddenly. ‘You still look white. You sure you’re not ill?’

I turned away. I couldn’t talk about what had happened, not even to Cal. He’d think I was crazy.

‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘Come on. Let’s go.’

I hurried down the steps to the bailey where the others were waiting by the gate. Tucker gave me a sardonic look.

‘Kind of you to join us, Will – eventually.’ He glanced round at the others. ‘Now can we not dawdle on the way back to school? We’re a little bit later leaving than I intended. Thanks to a certain person.’ His eyes flickered in my direction again.

But I was already hurrying towards the gate. I couldn’t get out of this place quick enough. Whatever was in there, whatever it was that had taken me over, I wanted to leave it behind at the castle. I wanted it to stay there for good.

But it came with me.

It seemed to walk through my feet, breathe through my breath, think through my thoughts. It whispered and murmured inside me, and its words were coming out through my own mouth.

‘He killed them,’ I was saying. ‘He threw them in the river by the ford.’

Cal and Ellie were walking beside me. I saw them glance at me but my mind was not on them. It was on the dark veil falling once more over the buildings and streets of Totnes. And the chill that came with it.

‘Will?’ said Cal. ‘You’re talking to yourself.’

‘He was doing that up on the wall walk,’ said Ellie.

I tried to respond but found I could not.

‘Will?’ said Ellie. ‘What’s happening?’

I heard the fear in her voice. The shivery presence moved inside me but did not go. I heard Cal shout ahead to Mr Tucker.

‘Sir! Something’s wrong with Will!’

‘Have you only just discovered that, Calvin?’

‘Sir! It’s serious!’

Tucker was with me moments later. He was like a !shadow now, just as Cal and Ellie and my classmates had become shadows. And as they closed round, I saw other shadows. The shadows of another life. A life I did not understand and wanted no part of. The voice spoke through me again.

‘He killed them. He threw them in the river by the ford. I never saw them again.’

‘Easy, Will,’ said Tucker. ‘Easy now.’

I felt his arm slip round my shoulder, saw the !shadow of his face draw close. The shivery presence moved up my spine like a rush of air. I opened my mouth to speak. Then remembered no more.