Chapter One

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FOLLOWED

Few sixteen-year-olds could claim to have a stalker. Typically they were reserved for celebrities, rock stars, maybe even reality TV rejects and, conventionally, ‘popularity’ was a pre-requisite. A commodity not in abundance in Sammy Ellis’s existence. Not that she really cared. She was cool with it. But if she had to have a stalker, did it really have to be a crusty old woman? As opposed to, say, a buff Sheffield University student?

In the margin of her maths book she absent-mindedly doodled an odd-looking terminator blasting an old woman in the face with a twelve gauge auto-loader. Boom! Headshot!!! she scrawled over the top, underlining it several times.

Rat-a-tat-tat. A fist rapped on the corner of her desk. It was Miss Armatage.

“The square root of X does not equal death by machine gun,” she said with a straight face. It was a bored, depressed face that had seen a thousand students come and go. An assembly line of kids that she regurgitated the same information to before pushing them back out the door. She was a desiccated husk of a woman, probably in her fifties, but she could’ve easily been a few centuries old.

“It’s not a machine gun, Miss. It’s…”

“I don’t care, Miss Ellis. You’re a tick in my register, a GCSE mathematics grade. A grade B is what I expect from you. And I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get it.”

Sammy wondered whether it was possible for Miss Armatage to look more disappointed with life than she already did. A bloodhound that had been neutered on his birthday would look happier.

Miss Armatage drifted out of focus, replaced by the clock above the whiteboard. It read 3.15pm. Sammy raised her hand.

“I’m right here, Samantha.”

“Right. Can I be excused, Miss?”

“There’s only half an hour before the bell. Can’t you hold on?”

“Not really. I was dehydrated after PE, so I drank loads of water. Maybe I drank too much, but I was so thirsty that I kept drinking…”

Miss Armatage held up her hand to stop her. “Look at my face.”

“Do I have to?”

Miss Armatage stared back, devoid of emotion. “Just go.” She turned and walked back towards the whiteboard, then, as Sammy reached the door, added, “Hurry back, my little statistic.”

Sammy ran for the gates, zigzagging across the uneven tarmac outside the science block, dodging puddles while clutching her backpack to the top of her head to stop the icy rain stinging her face. She’d gone straight to the staff room after leaving class, as she had done every night so far this week. Thankfully, this time the room had been empty, so she’d phoned the police and sacked off the last fifteen minutes of school. Tonight she wouldn’t be creeping across the football pitch and over the fence.

She slowed as she approached the school gates. A glimpse of powder blue shimmered through the grey sheets of rain. The old woman stood in front of the houses across the street, the same spot she stood every night, wearing the same pale blue headscarf and dressed in bedraggled brown clothes which resembled a heap of threadbare carpets. Her clothes were heavy and waterlogged, probably freezing. But there she waited, soaking up the rainwater. She must have picked Sammy out as a loner because no one ever came to pick her up. So, then, why hadn’t she made her move yet? This had been going on for weeks and the old woman always stood outside, in plain view.

The dark eyes fixed on Sammy’s. The woman smiled. Then her head snapped to the side and she tensed. Sammy smiled this time. She couldn’t see past the school wall, but she knew what was coming.

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