He crept slowly along the candlelit tunnels beneath the medieval castle, glancing cautiously at the flickering flames and the shadows that drifted along the jagged stone walls. Distant voices were a constant reminder that he wasn’t alone in this unearthly maze of dungeons. He was only a boy, without weapons or guidance. Was this a test of his skill, cunning or bravery? What creatures lurked in this damp, narrow tomb? Would this evil place soon become his grave?
He could taste the damp, mouldy air and repeatedly licked his parched lips. He longed for a glass of cool water, the comforts of home, and to return to the twenty-first century.
Warily, he ventured on, into the creepy unknown, and began to climb a set of steep, winding stone steps. Beads of sweat trickled down his back as he climbed higher and higher up the long, dark stairway. Suddenly, a light flickered, sunlight dazzled him, and he stepped into a large hall with arched windows and high ceilings. His eyes focused on dust particles floating aimlessly towards him from a doorway at the far end of the room. A cool breeze stroked his face. He gathered his strength and ran frantically from the dungeons. He pounded forward, eagerly anticipating his escape. Suddenly, a deafening roar echoed all around. A huge figure sprang through the doorway, blocking his only path to freedom. Daniel froze in his tracks, his heart thumping in his chest. A shiver swept through his body as he stood, rigid, glancing at the shadowy figure. Trembling, he looked up, focusing on the ugly man-like creature with its blue, wrinkled face, long, straggly hair, and bloodshot eyes. The creature glared down at him and snarled.
Then, without warning, a loud noise broke the silence.
‘Daniel! Daniel! Hurry up! You’ll be late for school.’
Daniel threw the book down, jumped off the bed and knocked poor Chip flying.
‘Sorry, Chip, Sorry, Mum. This wizard book is awesome. I’m coming.’
Mum’s voice rang through the air again. ‘Come on, you can read later! I don’t know – spells, ghosts, magic. That’s all you ever think of!’
Daniel hopped around the bedroom with one leg in his trousers. ‘Sorry, Mum, I just got carried away.’ He fumbled into his shirt, laughing. He carefully picked up his little dog and cuddled him. ‘It’s okay, Chip, but I wonder if…’ Daniel rushed over to the bedroom window and looked down into the garden. They watched as a small robin hopped along the soft layer of white, then Daniel pointed.
‘Look, more snow, Chip. The food is covered up – we’d better put some more out, or the birds will die.’
Daniel was a quiet twelve-year-old who liked reading. He wasn’t exactly the intellectual type – far from it! He preferred science-fiction and fantasy. He was an imaginative boy, regarded as a daydreamer by everyone, including his mum and dad. But who were they to comment? Even Mr and Mrs Brady’s neighbours considered them to be eccentric workaholics. Daniel’s teenage sister, Emily, was a self-centred troll, thought Daniel, and best ignored. The smallest member of the household, but the most important (as far as Daniel was concerned), was Chip, his faithful little dog and the only one in the house he could relate to.
Daniel moved quickly that morning and jogged down the stairs, his hair bobbing up and down as he went. Little Chip followed close behind. He dived straight into the kitchen, sneaked some biscuits, then stepped quietly out to the cold garden.
‘Stay, Chip! Stay, there’s a good boy. Don’t frighten the robin.’ Gently, Daniel cleared the snow from the top of the garden wall, while the little dog’s eyes keenly followed the pieces of biscuit that Daniel scattered on the wall. Suddenly, the kitchen door swung open and Mum’s voice beckoned him again.
‘Daniel! Come on, hurry up, and don’t you dare bring that snow in here.’
Instantly, the robin flew off, skimming low to the ground before fluttering swiftly out of sight.
‘Mum, you scared it.’
But the kitchen door had already closed. Daniel looked down sadly. He handed Chip a biscuit then sighed. ‘Never mind, he’ll come back. I suppose I’d better go now. I only wish you could come with me.’
It was February, and Daniel was in his second term at Middleton High. He was a newt (which is what Year 7s were called by the older students). His mum usually drove him the ten-minute journey to school. She drove a posh red car, wore matching red lipstick, and didn’t give a hoot about other drivers. Today was no exception. In a queue of traffic, Mrs Brady sat cursing. ‘Look at that idiot.’ She blasted her horn.
Uncomfortable, Daniel sat still, then decided to speak. ‘They call that road rage, Mum.’
‘It’s not me, it’s them! They make me in a bad mood.’
As they neared the school, Mrs Brady was driving carelessly.
‘Watch out, Mum!’ gasped Daniel, but it was too late. She drove through a heap of slush, spraying a group of children. Daniel ducked out of sight until the car came to a halt. Cautiously, he peered through the window then discreetly stepped out onto the pavement.
Within seconds Daniel had blended in with all the other kids heading in the same direction, but he trudged along, thinking, I hope my mum didn’t spray slush over Bullfrog Riley. If she did, I’m dead! I know he’ll get me, I know he will. He will. I hate him. I really do.
Daniel heard his name and instinctively looked up, only to see a white flash, then the cold, painful sting of a snowball hitting his face. He cringed, clutching his face.
‘That was a good shot, eh, Brady?’ sniggered the same voice.
Daniel opened his blurry eyes to see that his worst nightmare, Bullfrog Riley and the Slippery Geeks, had surrounded him. His stomach churned as he wiped away the snow.
‘We don’t like posh posers like you,’ jeered Riley, turning and grinning at his tall freaky friends, the identical twins. ‘What shall we do with him, lads?’
Daniel kept quiet, edging back, but Riley came closer, stalking Daniel. Then another snowball slammed into Daniel’s face. The impact knocked him off his feet and he slipped, landing with a thump in the snow.
Footsteps crunched past as Daniel stood up, holding his nose. He brushed the snow from his clothes as other kids strolled past, laughing, until...
‘Are you all right?’ asked his friend Sophie Little, also known as little Sophie because of her frail appearance, freckly face, and button nose, which didn’t help to make her a tough ally. She was a quiet, friendly, intelligent girl with a dry sense of humour, but she was easily intimidated and struggled to challenge more assertive kids.
‘I think my nose is broken.’ Daniel sniffed gently. ‘Is it bleeding?’
Sophie carefully examined his nose. ‘No, it’s okay.’
‘It really hurts.’
Sophie bit her fingernail. ‘You should report Riley.’
Daniel wiped away a tear. ‘I daren’t.’
He flicked the last bits of snow from his coat then sighed. ‘I wish I could send him to the depths of a real grotty, putrid place – then ram a snowball down his throat. Anyway, if you saw what happened, why didn’t you help me?’
‘Sorry, Daniel, but … I’m only a girl and … he really freaks me out.’
‘Me too. He’s always picking on me in class.’
Sophie looked around warily. ‘They’ve gone now. Shall we go?’
Together they walked towards the old school gates of Middleton High. The school was built in the grounds of the former Middleton Manor and castle. The ancient castle had stood alone for centuries, then in late Tudor times Middleton Manor had been built next to it, along with an orphanage, stables and servants’ quarters. When the castle and manor fell into decay they were demolished, and the school was constructed, using many of the old bricks and stone from the manor. Its main entrance appeared vaguely similar to the old manor, with an arched stone doorway, high ceilings and wooden beams. Middleton Manor had – apparently – been haunted, and there were rumours that the school was haunted too, but these stories were hushed up to protect the school’s image.
Daniel reckoned, based on the ghost stories he’d read, that both good and bad ghosts lingered on at the school and fought each other.
‘You don’t see the ghosts,’ claimed Daniel, ‘unless they want you to. But if you do, you become spellbound and are dragged all the way to the castle dungeons – and tortured.’
Sophie cringed. ‘I don’t believe you. Who told you that?’
Daniel raised his eyebrows. ‘It’s true.’
‘You mean, like good versus evil?’
‘Sort of. I read about a school orphanage and men in the eighteenth century who tortured people, including children. They were really bad people. Our school was built where the castle, manor and orphanage stood all those years ago. Apparently there was a prophecy. It says that children who died in the orphanage placed a curse on the wicked people, and one day a descendant of one of the children will lead them to invoke their revenge. And they will seek out and destroy all that is evil, along with anyone who stands in their way. According to this book, the prophecy could be linked to the school. Maybe it could happen at Middleton High. Then they could get Riley.’
Sophie chewed her fingers. ‘Sounds like your books could lead you into trouble. That information is a bit scary.’
‘It’s supposed to scare you – but Riley’s scarier – and evil. You’re lucky that you hardly see him.’
Sophie looked nervously around. ‘Forget him. Shouldn’t we go now?’
In the classroom Daniel could feel Riley’s presence behind him. Seconds later something hit his ear and a pencil bounced from his desk onto the floor.
Miss White, the English teacher, noticed. ‘Pick up your pencil, please, Daniel.’
Daniel stooped to pick it up. ‘Okay, Miss, but it’s not mine – it’s Riley’s.’ He then muttered under his breath, ‘Go to hell, pig.’
Miss White, an elderly teacher who usually smiled a lot, seemed different today. She appeared to be in a bad mood – but her hearing was sharp.
‘What did you say, Daniel?’
Daniel gulped, ‘Nothing, Miss.’
‘I hope you’re not being troublesome?’ The irritated tone of her voice demanded an answer.
‘No, Miss, honest.’
Later that day, as he did every day, Daniel was heading along the school corridor to meet Sophie when an object flew past his ear. A ball of paper dropped to the floor in front of him. He carried on walking, trying to ignore it, but couldn’t stop thinking. Someone threw that at me. It must be Riley? I’ll walk faster. Maybe I should run. Suddenly, he felt a push. He stumbled, lost his balance. His books slipped from his hand and he fell, sprawling onto the floor.
The Geeks stared at Daniel, their thin lips curled in a menacing grin as they laughed and slyly walked past him, kicking his books along the floor. Daniel scrambled after his books.
‘Pack it in! Get lost, you two.’ He began sobbing as other boys joined in and scuffed his books along the corridor.
‘Why are you scrabbling about on the floor, Daniel Brady?’ said a voice. Daniel peered up to see the unwelcome plump face of Miss Tubble, the maths teacher.
‘I’m only picking up my books, Miss – they were knocked out of my hand.’
‘He dropped them, Miss,’ interrupted Bullfrog Riley, who was standing nearby. ‘He’s always dropping them.’
Daniel jumped to his feet, replying angrily, ‘Liar.’
Miss Tubble leaned back, placing her hands on her hips. ‘Stop daydreaming, Brady, and get to your lesson.’
Daniel gulped as he looked nervously into her piercing green eyes. He then spotted Riley behind her, laughing.
Sheepishly, Daniel fidgeted, noticing the other boys and girls staring at him, before running away along the corridor. The dumbfounded Miss Tubble stared daggers after him. He ran all the way to Sophie, still sobbing. ‘Old bat – I hate her and Riley.’
‘Bats are friends with Dracula. I bet that’s scary too.’
‘Yes, just like Tubble. She gives me the creeps sometimes, especially when she gets angry. I reckon the school is creepy and ghostly too.’
‘Wizards, witches and now ghosts? I’m glad it’s daylight.’
‘Today, yeah, but I reckon a corridor like this may have led to some old dungeon. This school is eerie in winter when the lights go out. That’s when all the ghosts come alive. I hope they come and get Riley and Tubble.’
To Sophie’s relief, the corridor began to fill with pupils heading for their lessons. ‘Don’t you think we’d better get going?’
Daniel didn’t take much notice. ‘You go – I’ll catch you later.’
She went away, concerned. Glancing back, she saw Daniel staring at a wooden plaque fixed to the wall, one of four that had been rescued from the demolished buildings. Daniel loved the old carved inscriptions and could relate to them. He believed this particular plaque came from the school orphanage, and couldn’t resist reciting the words:
Fear not the task
Nor the pain you feel
Look to your dreams
Your spirit will heal
After school Daniel’s mum picked him up and they drove home. Soon, they turned into Old Furrow Way, a quiet, tree-lined road. They passed detached houses with long driveways covered in snow. Lawns, bushes and trees were subtly hidden in white. Daniel glanced at the squirrel sign that greeted them as the car bumped over the kerb and onto the driveway, then came to a sudden halt, centimetres from the garage door. Phew, that was close again, thought Daniel, opening the car door and jumping out.
Once through the front door, a large hallway revealed a prominent staircase. There were doors to the left and right to the lounge and dining room. Ahead was a door leading into the kitchen.
‘Mum,’ Daniel said quietly, following her, Chip jumping up at his side, ‘a boy at school keeps picking on me.’
Mrs Brady’s face wore a vacant expression. She tapped across the floor in her high heels and leaned over a big bunch of flowers, poking her nose in the colourful petals. She took a long, sensuous sniff then smiled.
‘What did you say, Daniel?’ Mrs Brady continued speaking to her flowers as if they could hear her. ‘Ah, I must give you some more Troggle feed,’ she said, looking at her plants. ‘There’s a little drop of water for you, and some for you.’ She then whispered, ‘Let’s have a look at the sweeties in the conservatory, shall we?’
Daniel pursued her, Chip close behind. The little dog also wanted some attention, and began to dance on his hind legs, wagging his stubby tail.
‘Mum, Mum, a boy nicknamed Bullfrog Riley hit me. Mum! Do you have to talk to those stupid flowers?’
‘Sorry,’ she replied.
The kitchen and the conservatory contained so many varieties of flowers that every space was filled. Each room resembled an overgrown greenhouse.
Mrs Brady always dressed colourfully. Each day, she wore perfume with a flowery scent to match her flowery dress.
Eventually, Daniel sighed. ‘I know you’re busy, Mum. But don’t forget you promised to take me sledging. I’ve arranged to meet Sophie there.’
Mum heard that. ‘Okay. I know – you want a lift. Take me here – take me there.’
‘That was always Emily, not me, Mum. I hardly ever ask.’
Later, in the park, the popular sledge run was buzzing with people, lit up by rows of glowing street lights that shone on the slope. All sizes of toboggans slithered gracefully down, carrying excited children, including Daniel and Sophie. But Daniel had something else on his mind and each time they walked back up the slope he would comment, ‘I hate Riley.’
Sophie sighed. ‘Try to keep out of his way.’
‘How can I? He’s in my class.’
‘Report him, then.’
Daniel wiped a tear from his eye. ‘He’ll just pick on me even more.’
Little Chip scampered through the snow and ran in circles around Daniel. Mrs Brady, however, continued to stand, shivering, next to Sophie’s dad.
‘How long have we got to stand here for?’ she called out.
‘Not long, Mum. Just let me give Chip a ride.’ Daniel pulled Chip along on the sledge in between the other children. Everyone laughed. He ran with the sledge to the sound of cheers, but then spotted a familiar silhouette in the distance and stopped. ‘Oh no, Chip! I just thought I saw Riley.’
The little dog stood up, growling, as three shadows approached. Luckily, they turned and went the other way. Daniel remained uneasy. ‘Riley was here, Sophie. I think he’s trying to scare me. He called me a posh poser, but I’m not – I’m just a bit smarter than him. He gets things wrong in school and he was fuming the other day. I laughed a bit – I shouldn’t have, but so did others. He went bright red then glared at me.’
‘You probably embarrassed him. A similar thing happened to me. A girl put her nose right up to my face then poked her tongue out at me. She laughed with her friend. I hate her!’
The next morning saw little change in the weather. Again Daniel’s mum took him to school. But a carefully planned delaying tactic enabled him to arrive ten minutes later than usual. He hoped to avoid Bullfrog Riley in the playground.
Daniel stepped out of his mum’s car and ran along the snow-covered pavement towards the school gates. Only a handful of boys and girls remained near the entrance as Daniel stopped before heading cautiously through. No Riley, he thought, increasing his pace. Suddenly, someone grabbed him. His heart missed a beat. He swung around.
‘Sorry, it’s only me,’ Sophie said frantically. ‘I had to stop you – Bullfrog Riley is over there.’
Daniel stood still, straining his eyes left and right. ‘Where?’ he asked hastily.
‘He hasn’t seen us yet.’
Daniel shuffled nervously towards Sophie. ‘You’d better not be kidding me.’
‘I’m not kidding – I’m scared. You said I wouldn’t get picked on in this school.’
‘It’s not you, it’s me they’re after because of Riley.’ Suddenly Daniel felt something hit his back. Not again!
‘Nerd!’ a girl shouted.
‘Snob!’ a boy yelled.
Then without warning came a flurry of snowballs. Daniel and Sophie felt the snowballs pummel their heads and backs as they ran for safety.
Daniel’s first lesson of the day was maths with Miss Tubble. He sat quietly at his desk, opened his book and shuddered in disbelief at the first page, which was covered in black smudges. He glanced first at Riley, then at Miss Tubble. He had to report Riley for this – but would Miss Tubble believe him? She seems okay, but I don’t think she likes me. She might throw a wobbly, or shout, or – worse still – laugh, or… Hesitantly, he raised his hand.
‘Excuse me, Miss.’
Break-time soon arrived. A relieved Daniel was eager to find Sophie and tell her he had reported Riley. He darted quickly around the building, dodged in and out of the other kids, and slid in the snow, until he came to a sudden halt.
‘Sorry,’ Daniel mumbled nervously, realising to his horror he had bumped into Bullfrog Riley. ‘I didn’t see you.’
Riley glared at Daniel with his cold grey eyes. ‘Tough!’ he said. ‘You little creep.’
Daniel didn’t answer. He trembled at Riley’s big nostrils snorting steam into the cold air. The red-faced Riley sneered. ‘Who told Miss Tubble I smudged your book?’
Daniel froze, his mouth wide open, then took a step backwards. ‘Leave me alone … or else.’
Riley laughed, framed by his friends, the Slippery Geeks. ‘Or else what, Brady?’ He sneakily stepped on Daniel’s foot and kicked him.
Daniel held his arms rigid by his side, his face pale as pain shot through his toes. His eyes glistened. He clutched at his shin with both hands before shouting, ‘You fat coward!’
Riley’s eyes narrowed. ‘What did you call me?’
A small crowd of boys and girls had gathered, not wanting to draw attention to themselves, but trying to get a better view of the action.
‘Hey, break it up! Break it up, you lot,’ bellowed Miss Tubble, barging through a group of children and brushing them aside like skittles. She glowered at all the pupils. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘I’ll tell you, Miss,’ said Tyler Topping, a tall, intelligent-looking black boy in glasses.
Riley held up his leg. ‘He kicked me, Miss, so I kicked him back.’
‘That’s a lie,’ Daniel mumbled, pulling his trouser leg up to reveal what he thought was going to be a whopping great bruise, but there was only a small scratch.
The dumpy Miss Tubble spun round, flapping her arms impatiently like a goose, shooing the children away. ‘Break-time is over – now get back to your classes.’ She waited for everyone to disperse before waddling briskly away, leaving Daniel to struggle to his feet, his shin throbbing.
The boys’ cloakroom was a safe haven for Daniel. He bathed his leg with only minutes to spare before he was due back in class. He crouched, cursing under his breath. ‘My leg really hurts.’
‘Catch!’ a boy shouted. But before Daniel could turn around, something wet and heavy landed on his head. He snatched the object then inspected it. ‘Oh, no, it’s my coat.’ Daniel hobbled past rows of coats until he reached number 112 and saw his vacant peg. He slumped onto the bench and sat staring at his sodden coat.
‘Who’s in here?’ called another voice. ‘Oh, it’s you, Daniel,’ said the surprised Mr Shaw, the short, balding PE teacher. ‘Shouldn’t you be in class?’
‘Yes, sir, but I’ve just found my coat all covered in slush.’ Daniel dangled the wet coat in his outstretched hand. ‘Look, sir.’
Mr Shaw peered at it over the top of his glasses. ‘Yes, I can see that. How did it happen?’ But before Daniel could speak, Mr Shaw spoke again. ‘Look, Daniel, we’ll discuss this later. You should be in class by now, so run along, there’s a good lad.’
Daniel hung the coat on his peg then wandered despondently out of the cloakroom, his head bowed. He didn’t get very far along the corridor before he reached the plaque. He stopped, focusing on the words:
Fear not the task
Nor the pain you feel
Look to your dreams
Your spirit will heal.
Daniel mooched along, taking comfort from the plaque, deep in thought. The words on the plaque are the same as how I feel. It must have been a lot worse in that orphanage.
It took him a while to reach the classroom. On entering the room, Daniel was confronted by an angry Miss White.
‘Where have you been, Daniel?’ she asked sternly. ‘You’re ten minutes late.’
‘Sorry, Miss, but I went to the cloakroom and—’
Miss White was impatient. ‘Sit down, please, Daniel; we can’t have you wandering all over the school.’
The other students laughed as Daniel bowed his head before sitting down awkwardly.
Riley muttered, ‘Nerd.’
Miss White intervened. ‘Stop that.’
Daniel always sat with a mixture of boys and girls, but none were his real friends – not like Sophie. He often compared the children to cartoon characters, matching a few to funny shapes and faces. He liked drawing and sketched caricatures of his classmates – with the exception of Riley. He drew him as a monster, and kept those drawings hidden. Sophie was often in another group and Daniel didn’t see that much of her, but he kept hoping that next term or in Year 8 they could sit together in the same class.
That evening, Daniel sat unhappily at the dining table, listening to a boring conversation between his parents. He looked at his mum, who wore a brightly coloured jumper. She always craved attention. He then glanced at his dad, who wore an old-fashioned striped shirt and had a droopy moustache. Mr Brady was a perfectionist, a self-absorbed character who took pride in his work, but Daniel imagined him as a lord of the manor.
‘You design cars, don’t you, Dad?’
‘Yes, I do, son.’
‘Then why are you building a crappy old car in the garage?’
‘Don’t ask silly questions,’ tutted Mum. ‘It’s a vintage model.’
Daniel picked up his book, which was titled Alien Family, then said, ‘But he’s always out there.’ He switched his attention back to his dad. ‘If I built a car, I’d build one that’s fast or one that flies into the future, like, you know, what’s his name…’
Mum butted in. ‘Honestly, Daniel, those books of yours.’
‘Leave it out, Mum.’
Daniel studied his mum and dad and wondered which one he most resembled. He was sure his dad dyed his hair because it was such an unusual colour. Daniel had noticed that his mum and dad argued a lot. He thought it might be because of him. He knew they had some good points, but couldn’t remember what they were. He listened to his mum gossip about the neighbours then listened to his dad talk about a brand-new car, until he couldn’t wait any longer.
‘Dad, I’m not happy at school. A boy kicked me today.’
‘Stand up for yourself, son. I remember when I was a boy…’
That was it: time for Daniel to switch off. He thought of his favourite television programme, Teenage Trouble, but just then trouble arrived in the shape of Emily.
‘Kick him back.’ His sixteen-year-old sister Emily laughed as she sat at the table.
‘Don’t get into trouble,’ Mum replied.
‘Kick him back,’ Emily scoffed again, flicking her hair over her shoulder. ‘I would.’
Poor little Chip didn’t like all the talking. He covered his ears with his paws.
Daniel listened to all three trying to convince him each had the right answer, until he became sick of listening to them. He got up without saying a word then ran out of the room, closely followed by Chip. Everything went quiet, except for Emily’s voice.
‘What’s up with him lately?’
‘I’d like to turn Riley and the Geeks into goblins like these,’ Daniel sighed, sitting on his bed, pointing to the pictures in his book. ‘Emily is only interested in her appearance, and Mum and Dad say it’s just part of growing up. But you’ll help me, Chip, won’t you?’
Little Chip whined and tilted his head from side to side.
Riley was now the informal leader of a group of girls and boys who regularly taunted Daniel and Sophie. They had formed a sort of gang that you were either with or against. Most pupils in Year 7 were subtly enticed to become friends with Riley – or felt they had little choice in the matter. Daniel, however, was not part of this group, nor was he considered a friend. He, therefore, remained an enemy and a target.
Daniel sat in his mum’s car, waiting to go to school. It was spring, and the front garden of their house was alive with flowers budding. The lawn extended out to meet a row of small bushes that indicated the edge of the property. Shrubs were laced with spider webs, and droplets of dew dangled precariously from each strand.
‘Clunk click, with every trip,’ sang Mrs Brady as she slammed the car door, started the engine and shot off the driveway before turning on to the road. The car sped along as Daniel gazed vacantly out of the window at the pink petals of a magnolia tree, people hurrying along the pavements, and the sunlight flashing through the tall, leafy trees until he arrived at school.
Daniel sat through his first lesson without incident, but then it was PE. He buried his head in his kit bag. ‘Where are my trainers? They’re missing.’
‘Perhaps you forgot them,’ Tim Dalton commented, a boy with freckles and protruding ears.
Frantically, Daniel emptied his kit bag. ‘I always leave them at school – they’ve disappeared.’
‘I saw some trainers in the trees near the playing fields,’ said another boy.
‘I bet they’re mine.’ Daniel frowned. He looked for Mr Shaw and asked frantically, ‘Please, sir, can I go and get my trainers?’
‘Yes, okay, Daniel – but be quick about it.’
Daniel hurried off to the trees that ran along the edge of the school playing fields – an area that was out of bounds to all pupils, but easily visible from the classrooms. He searched until he spotted his trainers tied together and caught in the branches of a tree. Luckily, the tree had lots of low branches, and seemed easy to climb. Daniel didn’t waste any time scrambling up. Then, step by step, he climbed higher and higher towards his trainers.
‘Got them,’ he said at last, puffing. He began to edge his way back to the trunk then stopped. He could see something strange. Smoke drifted from the tree trunk. He heard a sizzle. He panicked. Was the tree on fire? His eyes focused on more puffs of smoke, then small red glowing letters began to appear in the wood. The words Touch me to see appeared. Daniel crouched, spellbound, watching as more letters appeared, one after the other. They burned a clear message into the wood, which read:
Touch me to see
My words unlock me.
Daniel scrambled away, suddenly afraid. ‘I’m not touching that – I’m out of here.’ Frantically, he clambered away.
Suddenly, Mr Shaw’s voice echoed through the branches. ‘Get down this instant, Brady.’
Daniel jumped out of his skin and let go of his trainers. They hit the branches before tumbling to the ground. His legs quivered. ‘Y-y-yes, sir, I-I-I’m coming.’ He edged awkwardly down the branches as Mr Shaw looked up.
A large crowd of boys in their PE kits, including Riley, had gathered and were shuffling closer, with Mr Shaw signalling them to stand back.
Mr Shaw called up. ‘Okay, Daniel, you’re doing fine.’
Daniel descended carefully.
‘Phew, this is hard work,’ Mr Shaw muttered.
Riley waited alongside the Geeks, laughing. ‘Jump, Brady,’ he hollered. ‘I’ll catch you.’
At that moment Daniel’s left foot slipped. Everyone gasped as he let go of the branch and swung in mid-air. He dangled perilously, holding on with his right hand.