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Numbers #2: The Chaos

"Did they? I'm sorry, Adam, I didn't know they'd do that. Still, it won't matter if you keep your nose clean, will it?"

"It's what they do to dogs, Nan."

"They're doing it to everyone, aren't they? Working their way through. It would have been your turn eventually, you just got yours early."

I press my lips together to stop any more words coming out, and turn my head toward the window. There's no point talking to her, no point at all. She don't understand.

I come back to school because it's better than being at home with her.

There's a racket of scraping chairs as people swap places and get themselves organized. I stand up, ready to move, but nobody's trying to catch my eye. No one wants to be my partner. On the other side of the room, a girl is standing on her own: It's her --- the girl with the dirty blonde hair. Sarah.

"OK, you two, find a desk."

Sarah looks up at me and it's like she's throwing knives across the room. The look in her eyes is so hostile, pure hatred, well, not pure, 'cause it's mixed up with what I saw before --- fear. Whatever she knows about me, or thinks she knows, it's something bad. Really bad.

"Not him, miss," she says. "Don't make me sit with him." Some of the others turn around, sensing something's up, or about to be.

The teacher sighs.

"We haven't got time for this. Unless anyone else wants to swap, you need to work together. Anyone?"

They all shakes their heads, shuffle their chairs farther in.

"Sit down, then."

"I don't want to sit with him."

"You'll either sit with him or I'm putting you on report." That means a phone call home. It means detention. Sarah takes a moment to consider her options, then sits down at an empty desk. She's got a face like thunder. I pick up my bag, walk over, and sit down opposite her. Keep cool, I'm thinking. Don't say anything stupid. Don't do anything weird. Just act nice and normal.

"Hi," I say. "I'm Adam."

"I know who you are," she says, talking to the desk, but then her eyes flick up to me briefly, and I catch her number again.

And, again, it stops me in my tracks.

In an instant, the world has disappeared and it's only me and the moment of her death.

I can feel it in every nerve ending, every cell, in my mind as well as my body --- there's this overwhelming sense of warmth, a peaceful journey out of this life and into another. I'm there with her, I know I am. My arms are around her, the scent of her hair's in my nostrils. I'm lying there, just being there --- with her, for her. Suddenly, I don't know if it's Sarah or my mum next to me. And I don't know if she's leaving or joining me. Which side am I on?

"Stop that. Stop staring."

With a jolt I land back in Forest Green School.

"I've got to look at you to draw you," I say.

"I don't see any drawing."

I glance down at the desk. She's already drawn an oval outline and put soft marks where my eyes, nose, and mouth are going to go.

"Right," I say. "Yes." I fish in my bag for my pencil case, slide a piece of paper over the desk toward me, and start to sketch the shape of her face. She has shoulder-length hair with a slight wave in it. Her eyes aren't large, but they are piercing, beautiful, fringed with stubby lashes. Her nose is straight, quite strong-looking, not a little turned-up button like some girls, but it don't spoil her face. The more I look at it, nothing could spoil it for me.

I try my best to draw what I see. I want her to like it. But it don't do her justice --- you can see it's a girl, but it's not her. I keep rubbing bits out, trying again, but it just isn't happening. And when I look across at her picture, I stop altogether. She works like a real artist, with shading and lines to give her picture a shape. Somehow she's switched off her feelings. She's looking at me like I was an object.

The face she's drawn is a young man, not a boy. It's strong around the jaw and the cheekbones, and soft around the mouth. But it's the eyes that strike me most. They look out of the paper straight at me and nowhere else. She's done something so you can see the light reflected in them, and that gives them a spark, brings them to life. There's a person in there, someone who laughs and hurts and hopes. She's drawn what I look like, but, it's more than that --- she's drawn who I am. "Wow," I say. "That's amazing."

She stops, only she don't look at me but at my drawing of her. I put my hand over the paper, trying to cover it up.

"Mine's rubbish," I say. "I wish I could draw you, your face, properly. I wish I could do it justice."

Her eyes flick up then, but instead of smiling or blushing even, she scowls.

"I just meant . . . I was just trying to . . ." I struggle to find the right words. "I only meant that you've got a pretty face. . . ."

I should have kept my mouth shut. It's like I've insulted her. She looks away and presses her lips together like she's stopping herself from saying something.

". . . and you've done a brilliant job with me. You've made me look . . . well, you've made me look . .."

". . . beautiful," she says. She's looking back at me now, and even though she's frowning, she's holding my eyes with hers and suddenly I'm full of her number again, the warmth and the peace of it. It's me and her, only me and her.

Then she does something amazing.

"I don't understand," she says and her voice is quiet and upset, like she's talking to herself, and she reaches across the table and gently holds her hand up to my right cheek. My mouth falls open with shock and when I breathe out spit gathers at one corner and catches the edge of her thumb.

"Sarah," I whisper.

She looks deeper into me, and she opens her mouth to say something back . . . and then someone at the back of the class wolf-whistles and she jerks her hand away. I look around and the whole class is watching.

I look back to Sarah for some help, but she's switched off again. She's putting her pencils away in a pencil case, gathering up her bag, blushing furiously. The bell rings for the end of the class and everyone starts to move.

"Finish your pictures at home for this week's homework!" the teacher shouts over the noise.

I put my things in my bag and scrape back my chair.

"Sarah," I say again, but when I look up there's only an empty chair. She's left her pencil case and her paper behind, and she's gone.

There are 20,000 security scanners in London, unblinking eyes watching the streets twenty-four hours a day. They'll follow you, photograph you, read your chip, log you: who, where, when. I used to think it would be easy to disappear, just walk away and get lost in the crowd, but when you try it, you find out it's almost impossible. Almost.

I'm feeling confident when I walk out of school at the end of the day. I've got clothes, money. I told Mum and Dad I'd be going to Photography Club after school. They were pleased --- a sign that I was joining in. I've bought myself an extra hour.

I go straight to the One-Stop Learning Center and into the public toilet there. I lock myself in a stall, take off my school uniform, and change into my own clothes. I was going to leave the uniform --- I'll never need it again --- but at the last minute I stuff it back in my bag. I've got so few clothes with me, I can use them as extra layers. Two minutes later, I'm out on the street again. A bus is coming down the road. I run to the stop and get on, find a seat at the back, and sit there, looking out the window.

I'm not too bothered where the bus is going, only that it's taking me away and faster than I could walk. My heart's beating hard in my chest, so I close my eyes for a minute and try to calm down. I've done it! I've got away! We've got away. We aren't safe yet, but every minute, every second we're moving farther away --- from home, from Him, from school, from Adam.


Sitting so close to him, drawing him, looking at him, really looking, I was more certain than ever that he was my nightmare boy. But close-up, he isn't frightening. He's weird, yes, he's twitchy and he can't sit still, and he has this way of looking at you, as though he's seeing right into you. But instead of freaking me out, I wanted to look back.

In my nightmare, I'm terrified. He's there with me, in the middle of the flames, and he takes my most precious thing, my baby, takes her out of my arms, and walks with her into the fire. But Nightmare Adam is scarred, one side of his face is disfigured and hideous. The Adam at school has the most beautiful skin --- smooth, warm, cappuccino skin. When I touched it, when I reached across and touched his face, it felt just the way it looked. Perfect. He has the perfect face, and for a crazy moment I imagine my face near to his, his eyes looking into my eyes, his lips brushing my lips. . . .

The bus jolts and I open my eyes. I'm looking directly at a scanner on the ceiling. Shit! Of course! They all have scanners. I've got to get off. Now. I ring the bell and go and stand by the door. Come on, come on. The next stop seems like miles. Finally, we grind to a halt and I'm out through the gap in the doors and walking as fast as I can. I'm trying not to run --- people will notice that and remember. There are scanners every hundred yards or so along this road, and a big public information screen on the corner. They put up photos of missing people on those screens. I've seen them before. I never thought they could be people like me --- people who didn't want to be found. Will my face be up there soon? As soon as I can, I duck down a side street.

As I'm walking, I'm thinking, How am I going to do this? If I go to a hotel or a B&B, they're going to ask for ID. I need a fake one, or I need to go where no one asks for ID. I need to slip under the radar, disappear.

It's not the sort of thing you can do on your own, without contacts.

Excerpted from NUMBERS #2: THE CHAOS © Copyright 2011 by Rachel Ward. Reprinted with permission by The Chicken House, an imprint of Scholastic. All rights reserved.

Numbers #2: The Chaos
by by Rachel Ward

  • Genres: Urban Fantasy
  • paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The Chicken House
  • ISBN-10: 0545263557
  • ISBN-13: 9780545263559