Chapter Five: Footsteps

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I could have dismissed the morning's events as a dream, but if that's what it was, I was still dreaming. Outside a seafront café with Mum and Danny, under the warmth of the sun, and with a belly full of buttery cod and salty potato, it seemed impossible to think I might not be awake.

Maybe I was hallucinating. I had seen things that were not there. So perhaps an experimental gas had leaked over the town and made everyone else fall asleep...but somehow made me see magical people and a sea monster?

Or it might have been an elaborate prank for some hidden camera show. Everyone was pretending to be asleep, and the strangers were actors, and the creature rising out of the sea was a special effect.

But people don't see special effects in real life. That's not how that works.

Or it really happened. Magic was real. Monsters were real. And the whole world had turned upside-down. Not only was magic real, but people in military helicopters and matching uniforms chased after it. People that Éven had called the Horseshoe Men.

Then there was Éven himself.

The memory of him was too real to be a dream. He was one of them. I'd seen him put Selkie to sleep, so I had to guess he was the one who had done the same thing to the town, all so that Selkie would have no witnesses when she tried to raise a monster.

Only, he was different. The others tried to hurt me; he tried to help.

And I had helped him. His wrists were bound with thread, and I had set him free.

If anyone could make sense of what I had experienced, it was him.

I had to see him again. I had to—

"You're going to miss all this," said Mum. "When you go off to university. You'll miss the sea. It's hard to leave the sea behind."

"I might get in to a university near the coast," I said.

"St Andrews, maybe," said Mum.

I couldn't even think about university. Mathematical formulas, French vocabulary; all the certainties of education were less certain now that I had seen the madness of magic first hand.

"I need to go for a run," said Danny. "Burn off some of these carbs. Can you take my stuff back to the house?" He waved me towards his fishing gear.

"Can you take it, Mum? I want to go with him."

Mum sighed and grabbed the fishing rod and box. "All right, but don't be long. You have to study."

"Can we run up the East Hill?" I asked Danny.

"All those steps?" said Danny. "Of course we can."

* * *

I had three reasons to want to run up the hill.

First, I wanted to talk to Danny away from Mum. They were both arch-realists and neither one of them would listen to any crazy stories I tried to share about my experiences, but at least Danny knew about the military. He might be able to help me identify the 'Horseshoe Men'.

Second, I wanted to see if the horn was still up on the hill. The monster's herald had ditched the instrument before making his failed leap, and it was the only evidence left that might prove that any of this was real.

Third, I wanted to spend some time with my brother.

I had almost seen him die, and he was going back to military school that evening. It would be weeks before I saw him again. This was my chance to hang out with him while I still could.

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