Part One: Just Another Girl From Camden Town
Anita Palmer sat up on her bed, blinking and disorientated.
She felt drowsy and woozy, but outside the open curtains she could see that it was still daylight.
And on top of that, she was fully dressed.
What had she been thinking, napping in the middle of the day? What was she, a doddering old granny or something?
She got up, dizzy for a moment. “I’ve got to tell Jade about that dream!” she said, grinning and heading for the computer. “She’ll freak out.”
She sat down, still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she turned on the computer and connected to the internet. And Evan—she’d have to tell him, too. He’d be well impressed; he was totally up for freaky things like that: legends and mythology and all that kind of . . . strange . . . old . . .
“Now that’s bizarre,” she said, the chat room open, her fingers poised over the keyboard.
The dream had gone. It had been so vivid—but now she couldn’t remember a single thing about it.
She yawned and stretched, her head still foggy. She looked at the time display at the bottom of the screen. 11:09.
Midmorning. But what day was it? Saturday or Sunday?
“Oh, great,” she said. “Now I don’t even know what day of the week I’m in! Losing my marbles or what?”
She got up and wandered out of her room, still feeling odd. She clattered down the stairs and turned in the hall, heading for the kitchen.
Her mum was there, at the table, packing her handbag.
Yawning still, Anita strolled in. “Hi, Mum,” she said. “What’s up?”
Her mother jumped—then stared at her—a huge smile breaking out across her face. “Tania!” She gasped, running and throwing her arms around her. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s so wonderful to see you! And your dad will be so pleased. We thought we might never see you again!”
Anita stared at her, taken completely aback—half stifled by her mother’s frantic embrace.
“What are you talking about, Mum?” she asked. “I was only upstairs.” She stared at her mother, completely baffled by this sudden display of affection. “And who on earth is Tania?”
Her mother took a half step back, her hands still gripping Anita’s shoulders, her face showing relief and joy. But why? Why the relief? Why the big deal? What was going on?
Anita let out a breath of bewildered laughter.
“Mum, what’s with you?” She frowned. “Has someone died or something?”
“Tania! That’s not funny.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
“How are things in Faerie?”
“The plague, sweetheart. Is it still spreading?” Anxiety creased her mother’s brow. “Oh dear god, tell me it isn’t. Tell me they’ve found a cure.”
Anita stepped back, her hands up as if to ward her mother off. “I’ve only just woken up, Mum—my brain’s too fuzzy for this kind of thing. How long was I asleep?”
“You were sleeping?”
“Yes. I was flat out on my bed.”
“You came through from Faerie in your sleep?” Mary Palmer shook her head. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Okay, now. Stop this. I feel weird enough already, thanks. But if you’re trying to freak me out for some reason, well done: mission accomplished.”
“Tania . . . ?”
“Stop it!” Anita snapped. “Stop calling me that!”
Confusion filled her mother’s face. “Anita?” she murmured.
“Yes! Yes, Anita.” Her voice dripped sarcasm. “Your daughter, Anita. I live here, remember?” She peered into her mother’s eyes. “Hey, you’re not going batty on me, are you, Mum?” She gave her mother a crooked half-smile, hoping a joke might click things back into place.
“Anita . . .” Her mother’s voice was only just above a whisper. “Not Tania anymore . . .”
A sick, heavy feeling began to grow in Anita’s stomach. Was her mother ill? Was there actually something wrong with her inside her head?
Her mother sat down heavily, her face pale and blank, her fingers gripping the edge of the table.
Not funny. Not even remotely funny.
“I’ll get you a drink.” Anita snatched up a glass from the draining board and reached for the water tap.
“No!” Her mother surged up, dragging at Anita’s arm as she turned on the chrome tap. “You’ll hurt yourself!”
Anita dropped the glass and it shattered in the sink. The water splashed loudly.
“The metal will burn your hand!”
“Mum, please stop saying these things. You’re frightening me.”
Her mother wrenched Anita’s hand off the tap and twisted it palm upward. She stared at it for a second before Anita pulled free, the edge of the sink unit sharp in the small of her back, her mother pressed against her.
“Your hand didn’t burn.”
“No, of course not.” Anita forced some calm into her voice. If there was really something wrong with her mother, Anita needed to keep a level head until she could get help. “I’m fine.” She held her palm up to her mother’s face. “See? No burns. Everything the way it should be.” Get help! “Uh. Where’s Dad?”
Her mother’s hands came up to her face. “Oh! You don’t know, do you? He’s in hospital. But don’t worry—he’s fine.”
“Yes. He’s been in there for a few days. Under observation and getting fluids and so on. But he’s fine, really. Completely on the mend. It was a touch of pneumonia, but he’s over it. I was just getting ready to go and pick him up when you . . . when you arrived . . .”
Panicking was not an option. Anita locked the fear away. She needed to be practical now.
“Mum, listen to me carefully, please,” she said. “You’re remembering stuff that isn’t true. Dad hasn’t been in hospital. Last time I saw him he was in the garden, mowing the lawn. That was this morning.”
Anita wished Evan were here. He’d know what to do. Nothing ever rattled him.
Her mother looked into her eyes, the confusion suddenly gone. “What date do you think it is?” she asked.
“What date do I think it is?”
The familiar no-nonsense voice. “What’s the date?”
“June tenth. Two days before my birthday.”
There was a strange pause.
“Look at the calendar, sweetheart.”
Her mother pointed across the room to where the calendar hung on the wall. Anita looked over expecting to see scenes of the Cornish countryside. Oh! Weird. Not the picture she remembered from breakfast that morning. A new one. Some standing stones on green moorland.
Her eyes dropped to the grid of days.
“You’ve changed the calendar,” Anita said. “Why did you do that?”
“It’s not the tenth of June, sweetheart. It’s August the fourteenth.”
“No, it isn’t. You’re confused, Mum. Listen, sit down. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea; how does that sound?”
Her mother seemed in control now. Confused but in control. “Do you remember the accident?” she asked.
“On the river. With Edric.”
“Who’s Edric? Is that even a real name?”
A deep line formed between her mother’s eyes. “With Evan, I meant.”
“What about Evan? What accident?”
“Tania . . .”
“No, Mum. Anita . . .”
“Yes, sorry. Anita, of course.” This was so weird. Apart from the things she was saying, her mum seemed perfectly okay now—perfectly rational. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Humor her. While she’s calm, just go along with things till you can get help.
“The last thing?” Anita cast her mind back. Waking up on her bed a few minutes ago. But before that? A kaleidoscope of images wheeled across her mind. Most of them contained images of Evan Thomas.
Rehearsals for the school play, Romeo and Juliet. Evan as Romeo and she as his Juliet. So romantic! Except that in the play the two lovers wound up dead. That wasn’t quite so cool. What else? Oh, chatting to Jade about the computer Anita hoped her folks were going to get her for her sixteenth. Googling the words “investigative journalist” as a possible career path. The trip to Hampton Court where she’d met Evan. Their first kiss. That had been when he had told her she had gold dust in her eyes. Then there was the second kiss. His brown eyes closing. The touch of his fingers in her hair.
His big secret! Yesterday he had told her he’d arranged something exciting for her birthday, but he wouldn’t tell her what. She wondered if he was planning on taking her somewhere special—somewhere where he would tell her he loved her . . .
. . . and that idea still made her tingle from head to toe.
Her mother’s voice snapped her back into reality.
“I don’t know what I remember last,” Anita said. “Being in my room, I guess.” Except she didn’t remember being in her room . . . not before waking up. There was a white void in her head where that memory should be.
Her mother took her hand. “You’ve forgotten,” she said. “You’ve forgotten it all. The accident. Everything.”
“I don’t like this,” Anita said, uneasy now. “What accident?”
“Sit down, Anita.”
She tried to pull away, but her mother’s hand held her tight. “I don’t want to sit down. It’s June tenth. Why are you saying these things?”
She could feel the ground sliding away from under her feet. Get a grip! It’s the tenth of June. Hold on to that idea.
“You poor girl,” said her mother. “How did this happen?”
“Nothing’s happened to me!” Anita shouted, tears stinging in her eyes. “Mum, what’s wrong with you? Why are you behaving like this?”
Her mother’s eyes were compassionate but determined. She reached into her handbag and drew out her mobile phone. She flipped it open and held it up toward Anita’s face. “Read the date, sweetheart,” she said.
Anita looked at the illuminated screen. 14—AUG.
“That’s not right. . . .”
Her mother stood up, gripping Anita’s arms, staring hard into her face. “I know this must be very confusing for you, Anita, but you have to keep calm.”
“I’m calm. I’m totally calm.” Calm like high explosives. Was it really August? Had she lost nine weeks of her life because of an accident? It seemed impossible but . . .
“Good. Now stay with me, Anita. There are things I need to tell you.”
“I had an accident?”
The world was turning itself inside out in front of her eyes.
“Yes. It started with the accident.”
“I don’t remember it.”
“No. I get that. Sit down. Edric . . . Evan, I mean. Evan took you on a boat trip on the Thames. For your birthday—a birthday surprise. Do you remember that?”
“No, but . . .”
It fit. A boat trip. That made sense. Evan’s big birthday surprise.
“The boat crashed into a bridge.”
Coldness like death drained through Anita. “Was he killed?”
“No,” said her mother. “No, he wasn’t. But you were both taken to hospital. And then . . .” Her voice faded.
“There was the book. The blank book. And then you both disappeared. You were gone for three days, and when you came back, everything was different. It turned our whole world upside down.” She laughed softly. “Our world—listen to me. As if it was just about our world after that . . .”
Her mother began the tale of the lost nine weeks.