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    Double history on a Wednesday afternoon - total nightmare! A few minutes ago, I would have said I couldn't imagine anything worse. But when there's a knock at the door, and it opens, and I spot my mum outside, I realise - life can always get worse.

    When a parent turns up at school, unexpected, it means one of two things. Either somebody close to you has been seriously injured or died, or you're in trouble.

    My immediate reaction - please don't let anybody be dead! I think of Dad, Gret, uncles, aunts, cousins. It could be any of them. Alive and kicking this morning. Now stiff and cold, tongue sticking out, a slab of dead meat just waiting to be buried. I remember Gran's funeral. The open coffin. Her shining flesh, having to kiss her forehead, the pain, the tears. Please don't let anyone be dead! Please! Please! Please! Ple -

    Then I see Mum's face, white with rage, and I know she's here to punish, not comfort.

    I groan, roll my eyes and mutter under my breath, "Bring on the corpses!"

    The head's office. Me, Mum and Mr. Donnellan. Mum's ranting and raving about cigarettes. I've been seen smoking behind the bike shed (the oldest clich¨¦ in the book!). She wants to know if the head's aware of this, of what the pupils in his school are getting up to.

    I feel a bit sorry for Mr. Donnellan. He has to sit there, looking like a schoolboy himself, shuffling his feet and saying he didn't know this was going on and he'll launch an investigation and put a quick end to it. Liar! Of course he knew. Every school has a smoking area. That's life. Teachers don't approve, but they turn a blind eye most of the time. Certain kids smoke - fact. Safer to have them smoking at school than sneaking off the grounds during breaks and at lunch.

    Mum knows that too. She must! She was young once, like she's always reminding me. Kids were no different in Mum's time. If she stopped for a minute and thought back, she'd see what a bloody embarrassment she's being, I wouldn't mind her having a go at me at home, but you don't march into school and start laying down the law in the headmaster's office. She's out of order - big time.

    But it's not like I can tell her, is it? I can't pipe up with, "Oi! Mother! You're disgracing us both, so shut yer trap!"

    I smirk at the thought, and of course that's when Mum pauses for the briefest of moments and catches me. "What are you grinning at?" she roars, and then she's off again - I'm smoking myself into an early grave, the school's responsible, what sort of a freak show is Mr. Donnellan running, la-di-la-di-la-di-bloody-la!

    BAWring!

    Her rant at school's nothing compared to the one I get at home. Screaming at the top of her lungs, blue bloody murder. She's going to send me off to boarding school - no, military school! See how I like that, having to get up at dawn each morning and do a hundred press-ups before breakfast. How does that sound?

    "Is breakfast a fry-up or some cereally, yoghurty crap?" is my response, and I know the second it's out of my mouth that it's the wrong thing to say. This isn't the time for the famed Grubbs Grady brand of cutting-edge humour.

    Cue the enraged Mum fireworks. Who do I think I am? Do I know how much they spend on me? What if I get kicked out of school? Then the clincher, the one mums all over the world love pulling out of the hat - "Just wait till your father gets home!"

    Dad's not as freaked out as Mum, but he's not happy. He tells me how disappointed he is. They've warned me so many times about the dangers of smoking, how it destroys people's lungs and gives them cancer.

    "Smoking's dumb," he says. We're in the kitchen (I haven't been out of it since Mum dragged me home from school early, except to go to the toilet). "It's disgusting, antisocial and lethal. Why do it, Grubbs? I thought you had more sense."

    I shrug wordlessly. What's there to say? They're being unfair. Of course smoking's dumb. Of course it gives you cancer. Of course I shouldn't be doing it. But my friends smoke. It's cool. You get to hang out with cool people at lunch and talk about cool things. But only if you smoke. You can't be in if you're out. And they know that. Yet here they stand, acting all Gestapo, asking me to account for my actions.

    "How long has he been smoking? That's what I want to know!" Mum's started referring to me in the third person since Dad arrived. I'm beneath direct mention.

    "Yes," Dad says. "How long, Grubbs?"

    "I dunno."

    "Weeks? Months? Longer?"

    "A few months maybe. But only a couple a day."

    "If he says a couple, he means at least five or six," Mum snorts.

    "No, I don't!" I shout. "I mean a couple!"

    "Don't raise your voice to me!" Mum roars back.

    "Easy," Dad begins, but Mum goes on as if he isn't there.

    "Do you think it's clever? Filling your lungs with rubbish, killing yourself? We didn't bring you up to watch you give yourself cancer! We don't need this, certainly not at this time, not when - "

    "Enough!" Dad shouts, and we both jump. Dad almost never shouts. He usually gets very quiet when he's angry. Now his face is red and he's glaring - but at both of us, not just me.

    Mum coughs, as if she's embarrassed. She sits, brushes her hair back off her face and looks at me with wounded eyes. I hate when she pulls a face like this. It's impossible to look at her straight or argue.

    "I want you to stop, Grubbs," Dad says, back in control now. "We're not going to punish you - " Mum starts to object, but Dad silences her with a curt wave of his hand " - but I want your word that you'll stop. I know it won't be easy. I know your friends will give you a hard time. But this is important. Some things matter more than looking cool. Will you promise, Grubbs?" He pauses. "Of course, that's if you're able to quit...

    "Of course I'm able," I mutter. "I'm not addicted or anything."

    "Then will you? For your sake - not ours?"

    I shrug, trying to act like it's no big thing, like I was planning to stop anyway. "Sure, if you're going to make that much of a fuss about it," I yawn.

    Dad smiles. Mum smiles. I smile.

    Then Gret walks in the back door and she's smiling too - but it's an evil, big-sister-superior smile. "Have we sorted all our little problems out yet?" she asks, voice high and fake-innocent.

    And I know instantly - Gret grassed me up to Mum! She found out I was smoking and she told. The cow!

    As she swishes past, beaming like an angel, I burn fiery holes in the back of her head with my eyes, and a single word echoes through my head like the sound of ungodly thunder... Revenge!

    I love rubbish dumps. You can find all sorts of disgusting stuff there. The perfect place to go browsing if you want to get even with your annoying traitor of a sister.

    I climb over mounds of garbage and root through black bags and soggy cardboard boxes. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to use, or in what fashion, so I wait for inspiration to strike. Then, in a small plastic bag, I find six dead rats, necks broken, just starting to rot.

    Excellent!

    Look out, Gret - here I come!


    Eating breakfast at the kitchen table. Radio turned down low. Listening to the noises upstairs. Trying not to giggle. Waiting for the outburst.

    Gret's in her shower. She showers at least twice a day, before she goes to school and when she gets back. Sometimes she has one before going to bed too. I don't know why anybody would bother to keep themselves so clean. I reckon it's a form of madness.

    Because she's so obsessed with showering, Mum and Dad gave her the en suite bedroom. They figured I wouldn't mind. And I don't. In fact, it's perfect. I wouldn't have been able to pull my trick if Gret didn't have her own shower, with its very own towel rack.

    The shower goes off. Splatters, then drips, then silence. I tense with excitement. I know Gret's routines inside out. She always pulls her towel down off its rack after she's showered, not before. I can't hear her footsteps, but I imagine her taking the three or four steps to the towel rack. Reaching up. Pulling it down. Aaaaaaaaannnddd...

    On cue - screams galore. A shocked single scream to start. Then a volley of them, one running into another. I push my bowl of soggy cornflakes aside and prepare myself for the biggest laugh of the year.

    Mum and Dad are by the sink, discussing the day ahead. They go stiff when they hear the screams, then dash towards the stairs, which I can see from where I'm sitting.

    Gret appears before they reach the stairs. Crashes out of her room, screaming, slapping bloody shreds from her arms, tearing them from her hair. She's covered in red. Towel clutched with one hand over her front - even terrified out of her wits, there's no way she's going to come down naked!

    "What's wrong?" Mum shouts. "What's happening?"

    "Blood!" Gret screams. "I'm covered in blood! I pulled the towel down! I..."

    She stops. She's spotted me laughing. I'm doubled over. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen.

    Mum turns and looks at me. Dad does too. They're speechless.

    Gret picks a sticky pink chunk out of her hair, slowly this time, and studies it. "What did you put on my towel?" she asks quietly.

    "Rat guts!" I howl, pounding the table, crying with laughter. "I got... rats at the rubbish dump... chopped them up... and..." I almost get sick, I'm laughing so much.

    Mum stares at me. Dad stares at me. Gret stares at me.

    Then -

    "You lousy son of a - !"

    I don't catch the rest of the insult - Gret flies down the stairs ahead of it. She drops her towel on the way. I don't have time to react to that before she's on me, slapping and scratching at my face.

    "What's wrong, Gretelda?" I giggle, fending her off, calling her by the name she hates. She normally calls me Grubitsch in response, but she's too mad to think of it now.

    "Scum!" she shrieks. Then she lunges at me sharply, grabs my jaw, jerks my mouth open and tries her hardest to stuff a handful of rat guts down my throat.

    I stop laughing instantly - a mouthful of rotten rat guts wasn't part of the grand ¨¹ber-joke! "Get off!" I roar, lashing out wildly. Mum and Dad suddenly recover and shout at exactly the same time.

    "Stop that!"

    "Don't hit your sister!"

    "She's a lunatic!" I gasp, pushing myself away from the steaming Gret, falling off my chair.

    "He's an animal!" Gret sobs, picking more chunks of guts from her hair, wiping rat blood from her face. I realise she's crying - serious waterworks - and her face is as red as her long, straight hair. Not red from the blood - red from anger, shame and... fear?

    Mum picks up the dropped towel, takes it to Gret, wraps it around her. Dad's just behind them, face as dark as death. Gret picks more strands and loops of rat guts from her hair, then howls with anguish.

    "They're all over me!" she yells, then throws some of the guts at me. "You bloody little monster!"

    "You're the one who's bloody!" I cackle. Gret dives for my throat.

    "No more!" Dad doesn't raise his voice but his tone stops us dead.

    Mum's staring at me with open disgust. Dad's shooting daggers. I sense that I'm the only one who sees the funny side of this.

    "It was just a joke," I mutter defensively before the accusations fly.

    "I hate you!" Gret hisses, then bursts into fresh tears and flees dramatically.

    "Cal," Mum says to Dad, freezing me with an ice-cold glare. "Take Grubitsch in hand. I'm going up to try and comfort Gretelda." Mum always calls us by our given names. She's the one who picked them, and is the only person in the world who doesn't see how shudderingly awful they are.

    Mum heads upstairs. Dad sighs, walks to the counter, tears off several sheets of kitchen paper and mops up some of the guts and streaks of blood from the floor. After a couple of silent minutes of this, as I lie uncertainly by my upturned chair, he turns his steely gaze on me. Lots of sharp lines around his mouth and eyes - the sign that he's really angry, even angrier than he was about me smoking.

    "You shouldn't have done that," he says.

    "It was funny," I mutter.

    "No," he barks. "It wasn't."

    "She deserved it!" I cry. "She's done worse to me! She told Mum about me smoking - I know it was her! And remember the time she melted my lead soldiers? And cut up my comics? And - "

    "There are some things you should never do," Dad interrupts softly. "This was wrong. You invaded your sister's privacy, humiliated her, terrified her senseless. And the timing! You..." He pauses and ends with a fairly weak "...upset her greatly." He checks his watch. "Get ready for school. We'll discuss your punishment later."

    I trudge upstairs miserably, unable to see what all the aggro is about. It was a great joke. I laughed for hours when I thought of it. And all that hard work - chopping the rats up, mixing in some water to keep them fresh and make them gooey, getting up early, sneaking into her bathroom while she was asleep, carefully putting the guts in place - wasted!

    I pass Gret's bedroom and hear her crying pitifully. Mum's whispering softly to her. My stomach gets hard, the way it does when I know I've done something bad. I ignore it. "I don't care what they say," I grumble, kicking open the door to my room and tearing off my pyjamas. "It was a brilliant joke!"

    Purgatory. Confined to my room after school for a month. A whole bloody MONTH! No TV, no computer, no comics, no books - except schoolbooks. Dad leaves my chess set in the room too - no fear my chess-mad parents would take that away from me! Chess is almost a religion in this house. Gret and I were reared on it. While other toddlers were being taught how to put jigsaws together, we were busy learning the ridiculous rules of chess.

    I can come downstairs for meals, and bathroom visits are allowed, but otherwise I'm a prisoner. I can't even go out at the weekends.

    In solitude, I call Gret every name under the moon the first night. Mum and Dad bear the brunt of my curses the next. After that I'm too miserable to blame anyone, so I sulk in moody silence and play chess against myself to pass the time.

    They don't talk to me at meals. The three of them act like I'm not there. Gret doesn't even glance at me spitefully and sneer, the way she usually does when I'm getting the doghouse treatment.

    But what have I done that's so bad? OK, it was a crude joke and I knew I'd get into trouble - but their reactions are waaaaaaay over the top. If I'd done something to embarrass Gret in public, fair enough, I'd take what was coming. But this was a private joke, just between us. They shouldn't be making such a song and dance about it.

    Dad's words echo back to me - "And the timing!" I think about them a lot. And Mum's, when she was having a go at me about smoking, just before Dad cut her short - "We don't need this, certainly not at this time, not when - "

    What did they mean? What were they talking about? What does the timing have to do with anything?

    Something stinks here - and it's not just rat guts.

    I spend a lot of time writing. Diary entries, stories, poems. I try drawing a comic - 'Grubbs Grady, Superhero!' - but I'm no good at art. I get great marks in my other subjects - way better than goat-faced Gret ever gets, as I often remind her - but I've all the artistic talent of a duck.

    I play lots of games of chess. Mum and Dad are chess fanatics. There's a board in every room and they play several games most nights, against each other or friends from their chess clubs. They make Gret and me play too. My earliest memory is of sucking on a white rook while Dad explained how a knight moves.

    I can beat just about anyone my age - I've won regional competitions - but I'm not in the same class as Mum, Dad or Gret. Gret's won at national level and can wipe the floor with me nine times out of ten. I've only ever beaten Mum twice in my life. Dad - never.

    It's been the biggest argument starter all my life. Mum and Dad don't put pressure on me to do well in school or at other games, but they press me all the time at chess. They make me read chess books and watch videotaped tournaments. We have long debates over meals and in Dad's study about legendary games and grandmasters, and how I can improve. They send me to tutors and keep entering me in competitions. I've argued with them about it - I'd rather spend my time watching and playing football - but they've always stood firm.

    White rook takes black pawn, threatens black queen. Black queen moves to safety. I chase her with my bishop. Black queen moves again - still in danger. This is childish stuff - I could have cut off the threat five moves back, when it became apparent - but I don't care. In a petty way, this is me striking back. "You take my TV and computer away? Stick me up here on my own? OK - I'm gonna learn to play the worst game of chess in the world. See how you like that, Corporal Dad and Commandant Mum!"

    Not exactly Luke Skywalker striking back against the evil Empire by blowing up a Death Star, I know, but hey, we've all gotta start somewhere!

    Studying my hair in the mirror. Stiff, tight, ginger. Dad used to be ginger when he was younger, before the grey set in. Says he was fifteen or sixteen when he noticed the change. So, if I follow in his footsteps, I've only got a handful or so years of unbroken ginger to look forward to.

    I like the idea of a few grey hairs, not a whole head of them like Dad, just a few. And spread out - I don't want a skunk patch! I'm big for my age - taller than most of my friends - and burly. I don't look old, but if I had a few grey hairs, I might be able to pass for an adult in poor light - bluff my way into 18-rated movies!

    The door opens. Gret - smiling shyly. I'm nineteen days into my sentence. Full of hate for Gretelda Grotesque. She's the last person I want to see.

    "Get out!"

    "I came to make up," she says.

    "Too late," I snarl nastily. "I've only got eleven days to go. I'd rather see them out than kiss your..." I stop. She's holding out a plastic bag. Something white inside. "What's that?" I ask suspiciously.

    "A present to make up for getting you grounded," she says, and lays it on my bed. She glances out of the window. The curtains are open. A three-quarters moon lights up the sill. There are some chess pieces on it, from when I was playing earlier. Gret shivers, then turns away.

    "Mum and Dad said you can come out - the punishment's over. They've ended it early."

    She leaves.

    Bewildered, I tear open the plastic. Inside - a Tottenham Hotspur shirt, shorts and socks. I'm stunned. The Super Spurs are my team, my football champions. Mum used to buy me their latest kit at the start of every season, until I hit puberty and sprouted.

    She won't buy me any new kits until I stop growing - I out-grew the last one in just a month.

    This must have cost Gret a fortune - it's the brand new kit, not last season's. This is the first time she's ever given me a present, except at Christmas and birthdays. And Mum and Dad have never cut short a grounding before - they're very strict about making us stick to any punishment they set.

    What the hell is going on?

    Three days after my early release. To say things are strange is the understatement of the decade. The atmosphere's just like it was when Gran died. Mum and Dad wander around like robots, not saying much. Gret mopes in her room or in the kitchen, stuffing herself with sweets and playing chess nonstop. She's like an addict. It's bizarre.

    I want to ask them about it, but how? "Mum, Dad - have aliens taken over your bodies? Is somebody dead and you're too afraid to tell me? Have you all converted to Miseryism?"

    Seriously, jokes aside, I'm frightened. They're sharing a secret, something bad, and keeping me out of it. Why? Is it to do with me? Do they know something that I don't? Like maybe... maybe...

    (Go on - have the guts! Say it!)

    Like maybe I'm going to die?

    Stupid? An overreaction? Reading too much into it? Perhaps. But they cut short my punishment. Gret gave me a present. They look like they're about to burst into tears at any given minute.

    Grubbs Grady - on his way out? A deadly disease I caught on holiday? A brain defect I've had since birth? The big, bad cancer bug?

    What other explanation is there?

    "Regale me with your thoughts on ballet."

    I'm watching football highlights. Alone in the TV room with Dad. I cock my ear at the weird, out-of-nowhere question and shrug. "Rubbish," I snort.

    "You don't think it's an incredibly beautiful art form? You've never wished to experience it first-hand? You don't want to glide across Swan Lake or get sweet with a Nutcracker?"

    I choke on a laugh. "Is this a wind-up?"

    Dad smiles. "Just wanted to check. I got a great offer on tickets to a performance tomorrow. I bought three - anticipating your less than enthusiastic reaction - but I could probably get an extra one if you want to tag along."

    "No way!"

    "Your loss." Dad clears his throat. "The ballet's out of town and finishes quite late. It will be easier for us to stay in a hotel overnight."

    "Does that mean I'll have the house to myself?" I ask excitedly.

    "No such luck," he chuckles. "I think you're old enough to guard the fort, but Sharon..." Mum "...has a different view, and she's the boss. You'll have to stay with Aunt Kate."

    "Not no-date Kate," I groan. Aunt Kate's only a couple of years older than Mum, but lives like a ninety-year-old. Has a black-and-white TV but only turns it on for the news. Listens to radio the rest of the time. "Couldn't I kill myself instead?" I quip.

    "Don't make jokes like that!" Dad snaps with unexpected venom. I stare at him, hurt, and he forces a thin smile. "Sorry. Hard day at the office. I'll arrange it with Kate, then."

    He stumbles as he exits - as if he's nervous. For a minute there it was like normal, me and Dad messing about, and I forgot all my recent worries. Now they come flooding back. If I'm not for the chop, why was he so upset at my throwaway gag?

    Curious and afraid, I slink to the door and eavesdrop as he phones Aunt Kate and clears my stay with her. Nothing suspicious in their conversation. He doesn't talk about me as if these are my final days. Even hangs up with a cheery "Toodle-pip", a corny phrase he often uses on the phone. I'm about to withdraw and catch up with the football action when I hear Gret speaking softly from the stairs.

    "He didn't want to come?"

    "No," Dad whispers back.

    "It's all set?"

    "Yes. He'll stay with Kate. It'll just be the three of us."

    "Couldn't we wait until next month?"

    "Best to do it now - it's too dangerous to put off."

    "I'm scared, Dad."

    "I know, love. So am I."

    Silence.

    Mum drops me off at Aunt Kate's. They exchange some small talk on the doorstep, but Mum's in a rush and cuts the chat short. Says she has to hurry or they'll be late for the ballet. Aunt Kate buys that, but I've cracked their cover story. I don't know what Mum and co are up to tonight, but they're not going to watch a load of poseurs in tights jumping around like puppets.

    "Be good for your aunt," Mum says, tweaking the hairs of my fringe.

    "Enjoy the ballet," I reply, smiling hollowly.

    Mum hugs me, then kisses me. I can't remember the last time she kissed me. There's something desperate about it.

    "I love you, Grubitsch!" she croaks, almost sobbing.

    If I hadn't already known something was very, very wrong, the dread in her voice would have tipped me off.

    Prepared for it, I'm able to grin and flip back at her, Humphrey Bogart style, "Love you too, shweetheart."

    Mum drives away. I think she's crying.

    "Make yourself comfy in the living room," Aunt Kate simpers. "I'll fix a nice pot of tea for us. It's almost time for the news."

    I make an excuse after the news. Sore stomach - need to rest. Aunt Kate makes me gulp down two large spoons of cod-liver oil, then sends me up to bed.

    I wait five minutes, until I hear Frank Sinatra crooning - no-date Kate loves Ol' Blue Eyes and always manages to find him on the radio. When I hear her singing along to some corny ballad, I slip downstairs and out the front door.

    I don't know what's going on, but now that I know I'm not set to go toes-up, I'm determined to see it through with them. I don't care what sort of a mess they're in. I won't let Mum, Dad and Gret freeze me out, no matter how bad it is. We're a family. We should face things together. That's what Mum and Dad always taught me.

    Padding through the streets, covering the six kilometres home as quickly as I can. They could be anywhere, but I'll start with the house. If I don't find them there, I'll look for clues to where they might be.

    I think of Dad saying he's scared. Mum trembling as she kissed me. Gret's voice when she was on the stairs.

    My stomach tightens with fear. I ignore it, jog at a steady pace, and try spitting the taste of cod-liver oil out of my mouth.

    Home. I spot a chink of light in Mum and Dad's bedroom, where the curtains just fail to meet. It doesn't mean they're in - Mum always leaves a light on to deter burglars. I slip around the back and peer through the garage window. The car's parked inside. So they're here. This is where it all kicks off. Whatever 'it' is.

    I creep up to the back door. Crouch, poke the dog flap open, listen for sounds. None. I was eight when our last dog died. Mum said she was never allowing another one inside the house - they always got killed on the roads and she was sick of burying them. Every few months, Dad says he must board over the dog flap or get a new door, but he never has. I think he's still secretly hoping she'll change her mind. Dad loves dogs.

    When I was a baby, I could crawl through the flap. Mum had to keep me tied to the kitchen table to stop me sneaking out of the house when she wasn't looking. Much too big for it now, so I fish under the pyramid-shaped stone to the left of the door and locate the spare key.

    The kitchen's cold. It shouldn't be - the sun's been shining all day and it's a nice warm night -  but it's like standing in a refrigerator aisle in a supermarket.

    I creep to the hall door and stop, again listening for sounds. None.

    Leaving the kitchen, I check the TV room, Mum's fancily decorated living room - off-limits to Gret and me except on special occasions - and Dad's study. Empty. All as cold as the kitchen.

    Coming out of the study, I notice something strange and do a double-take. There's a chess board in one corner. Dad's prize chess set. The pieces are based on characters from the King Arthur legends. Hand-carved by some famous craftsman in the nineteenth century. Cost a fortune. Dad never told Mum the exact price - never dared.

    I walk to the board. Carved out of marble, ten centimetres thick. I played a game with Dad on its smooth surface just a few weeks ago. Now it's scarred by deep, ugly gouges. Almost like fingernail scratches - except no human could drag their nails through solid marble. And all the carefully crafted pieces are missing. The board's bare.

    Up the stairs. Sweating nervously. Fingers clenched tight. My breath comes out as mist before my eyes. Part of me wants to turn tail and run. I shouldn't be here. I don't need to be here. Nobody would know if I backed up and...

    I flash back to Gret's face after the rat guts prank. Her tears. Her pain. Her smile when she gave me the Tottenham kit. We fight all the time, but I love her deep down. And not that deep either.

    I'm not going to leave her alone with Mum and Dad to face whatever trouble they're in. Like I told myself earlier - we're a family. Dad's always said families should pull together and fight as a team. I want to be part of this - even though I don't know what 'this' is, even though Mum and Dad did all they could to keep me out of 'this', even though 'this' terrifies me senseless.

    The landing. Not as cold as downstairs. I try my bedroom, then Gret's. Empty. Very warm. The chess pieces on Gret's board are also missing. Mine haven't been taken, but they lie scattered on the floor and my board has been smashed to splinters.

    I edge closer to Mum and Dad's room. I've known all along that this is where they must be. Delaying the moment of truth. Gret likes to call me a coward when she wants to hurt me. Big as I am, I've always gone out of my way to avoid fights. I used to think (fear) she might be right. Each step I take towards my parents' bedroom proves to my surprise that she was wrong.


    The door feels red hot, as though a fire is burning behind it. I press an ear to the wood - if I hear the crackle of flames, I'll race straight to the phone and dial 999. But there's no crackle. No smoke. Just deep, heavy breathing... and a curious dripping sound.

    My hand's on the door knob. My fingers won't move. I keep my ear pressed to the wood, waiting... praying. A tear trickles from my left eye. It dries on my cheek from the heat.

    Inside the room, somebody giggles - low, throaty, sadistic. Not Mum, Dad or Gret. There's a ripping sound, followed by snaps and crunches.

    My hand turns.

    The door opens.

    Hell is revealed.
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