Chapter Nine: Midnight

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I came home from my meeting with the Admiral to find my books taunting me from the desk. Those books promised a normal future and a self-defined life. I would study hard, pass my exams, and head off to university in September, where I could make new friends, learn to live alone, and maybe meet a guy and fall in love.

Everything felt different now. Everything certain was cast into doubt. A war was going on that no-one had bothered to tell me about, and it looked like I might get conscripted. Assuming I could put all of that out of my mind long enough to crack open my notes, I was no longer sure I had any reason to bother.

A brown envelope sat on top of my books. My name was written on it in flowing black script.

I called downstairs; "Mum, what's this on my desk?"

"A boy came by to deliver it while you were out," Mum shouted back. "Handsome young man. Is there something you're not telling me?"

"No, Mum!"

I shut the bedroom door. The envelope was a folded square of rough brown paper sealed with black wax. Inside was a round glass crystal hung from a loop of leather cord. Written on the inside of the folded paper were these words:

"Come to the net shops at midnight. Hang this in the moonlight. Come alone."

The note was signed, "Éven".

My heart thumped.

He wanted to see me.

* * *

A little before midnight, I checked that Mum was snoring in her room, and I went to the front window to see if Mr Bleak or any other eerie figures were lurking in the street.

All clear.

I double checked my reflection in the bedroom mirror to make sure that I had picked the right shirt, and that I had nothing stuck in my teeth, and I raced out of the house and down the steps to the beach.

The Old Town net shops stand on the shingle like a miniature city of tar-black clapboard skyscrapers. They're not shops in the usual sense, but workshops; sheds as tall as buildings, built high on the small beach so that fishermen could store their nets safe from the elements overnight.

As a boy, I called them witch huts, because they were so tall and narrow and black that I convinced myself only witches would live inside them. They would need high ceilings for their big black pointy hats.

It made sense when I was five.

It made a kind of sense now.

The sheds loomed like menacing shadows as I stepped between them; spaces of monolithic nothingness carved out of the starry sky. I knew I was taking a risk coming here on my own, but I couldn't tell anyone where I was going. The people who didn't know about Éven would think I was mad, and the people who did know would try to stop me.

Éven's choice of venue did not set me at ease. This corner of town was dead at this hour, but for the constant caw of gulls. If anything went wrong, the nearest help might be minutes away. And I was assuming it was really Éven who sent the message.

It had to be him.

I wanted to see him so much that I couldn't stand to think that it wasn't. I wanted to see him, and he wanted to see me. This was the start of something. Something I had never had before.

I found a clearing among the sheds, a little yard laid out for repairing nets and gutting fish. A gull glowered at me from the edge of the clearing, but he seemed more interested in the struggling crab he had thrown down on the shingle than in me. He stabbed his beak at the poor creature's underbelly.

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