The voice hissed into his ear.

‘So you managed to sneak out again. And have another little look at what you know you can’t have. What a pointless exercise.’

There was no need to turn to know who it was. No need to try and run.

No point in running.

He’d been wondering if maybe this could be his year. The year everything worked out right, even though it was half gone, and nothing was changed. And he’d been daring to dream. About the usual thing.

But that tumbled out of his mind now. In its place came thoughts of pain, fear, darkness.

‘You know you shouldn’t be here,’ sneered the voice. ‘You should be at home, getting ready for your – ‘ the sarcasm deepened ‘- big appointment.’

He blinked hard, knowing what was coming, feeling it starting to slither over his mind and body, somehow laughing at his useless attempts to hold it back. But already the estuary was receding. For a moment he saw the glistening belly of mud, and far out from the shore, the waters of the Ray Gut, dancing with boats. Even the dark, distant shape of Southend Pier, stretched out like an uncurled whip. Then that faded with the rest.

‘Vision going?’ The voice clucked in mock sympathy. ‘Usually does, doesn’t it? You mustn’t get so worked up over things.’

He felt his fingers twist and clutch round his eyes, as though trying to hold in the light which now oozed from them. High above him, he heard gulls screaming.

The voice gave an exaggerated sigh, this time in his other ear. ‘Another fit coming. And here you are, with just me to look after you.’

‘A-ah!’ A tremor rippled through his hands and he thrust them into his pockets.

‘That won’t work,’ jeered the voice. ‘You won’t stop the spasms that way. You’ve tried that before.’

Now all he saw was darkness. In the absence of light, he clung to other sensations: the tang of the estuary; the prickle of sweat along his neck; the rumble of a train behind the sea wall, thundering down towards Southend. But these too were leaving him. He felt his head roll, his eyes gyrate, his shoulders, arms, legs tense and twitch. He tasted blood on his tongue where he’d bitten into it.

The voice came back again, drawling its favourite theme.

‘Midget. Mad Midget. The loony from Leigh-on-Sea.’

‘M-m-m – ‘ The first spasm locked him in a knot of pain.

‘Midget the Mumbler. Fifteen years old. And he still can’t master his speech impediment. Not that we want to hear him talk.’

He managed to champ his jaws, but whether to spit or snarl or bite, he no longer knew, nor could control.

‘Midget the Masher. Who can’t eat without getting food all over himself. And everybody else.’

‘M-m – ‘

‘Midget the Moron. Can’t read the simplest word or write his own name. No wonder they won’t have him at school. And hardly surprising the home tutors keep giving up.’

‘M – ‘

‘Midget the Mess. Acne all over. And three foot tall!’

‘M – ‘

Now the voice was a guffaw. ‘Midget the Mistake. The ugly little dwarf who turned up even though we never wanted him.’

Suddenly it lowered. ‘Midget the Murderer.’

‘M-m – ‘

And hardened. ‘My pathetic little brother.’

There were no more words, and none were needed. He would not have heard them anyway. The spasms had taken over, and could not be stopped. He fell back, gasping for air, as the fit rushed upon him like a smothering sea.