This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.
New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
“That’s no problem at all, Mrs Jacobs.”
The police officer soothed away Artie’s mum’s fifteenth apology. Her face was fixed in a reassuring smile that was starting to wear thin at the edges.
“I’m sure that my colleague will locate your son soon,” she said.
Kelly Jacobs chewed at the skin of her thumb.
“He’s never sleepwalked before.” She turned to Artie. “Are you sure that he was sleepwalking?”
It was the fifteenth time that she’d asked that question too. Artie nodded. Richard Jacobs pulled his eyes away from the patio doors to look at his daughter.
“But you said that he was talking to someone?”
“I heard voices. I thought I saw someone else.” She shrugged again, moving her eyes from her mum’s face, to her dad’s and then to the police officer’s. “It was dark.”
She willed them not to ask any more questions. How could she explain who or what she had seen? A freaky alien-looking guy mind controlled Alex out of his bed and then vanished him into thin air. They’d look at her like she was nuts. Or start turning her room over looking for drugs.
Artie’s dad strode towards the door.
“Maybe I should go out there and help your partner look.”
The police officer started to demur. Artie’s mum cut through it with an apology.
“No problem at all, Mrs Jacobs,” the officer said. “I’m sure he’ll turn up soon.”
Artie sighed. It was like they were on a loop.
Her father returned to the window. Her mother resumed pacing. The minutes ticked by in an itchy silence.
“There they are.”
Her dad exhaled in one big, long breath. Her mum flitted to join him at the patio doors. Voices drifted through the glass: Alex awake and joking with the police officer.
Half a minute later Alex was in the lounge and inside his mother’s smothering hug.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” He smiled at his mum, accepted a brief hug from his dad. Artie got up from the sofa and stepped towards her brother. Alex fixed her with a cold glare. She jammed to a stop.
“Thank you officers,” Kelly Jacobs said. “So sorry to have troubled you.”
The female police officer said “Not at all, Mrs Jacobs.”
Seventeen times, Artie thought.
The second officer scratched the back of his neck. “I’ve heard that sleepwalking can be caused by stress. Maybe something at school?”
“Maybe so.” Artie’s mum laid a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Honey have you been having stress about college and exams?”
“Not really.” Alex’s stare crusted over with crystals of frost. Artie bit her lip.
“If you could take measures to avoid this situation happening again…”
“Of course, officer.” Richard Jacobs met the eyes of his wife. “Maybe we can get our GP to refer Alex to a sleep doctor, or a counsellor, or something?”
The look that Alex was giving Artie reached absolute zero.
Their dad shook hands with both of the officers, thanked them again, and escorted them to the front door. Their mum turned to fuss over Alex.
“I’m surprised that you didn’t cut your feet on anything. Do you feel OK?”
“I’m fine, Mum.” Artie could hear Alex’s gritted teeth
“Artie said that you took your violin with you. Did you find it?”
Alex shook his head. “I woke up half-naked and freezing cold in the middle of the woods with a worried looking copper shaking my arm. I didn’t really fancy going on a treasure hunt for my old violin.”
“Of course not.” Kelly Jacobs furrowed her brow. “Let me make you a hot chocolate to warm you up. Artie, would you like one?”
Artie shook her head.
“I don’t need a hot chocolate either, thanks mum.” Alex said. “I think I’m just going to go back to bed.”
“OK.” His mum nodded. “Such a shame about your violin, you played so beautifully in high school.”
Alex pushed his face into a smile for their mother. Then shot a further icy look at Artie. “I’m heading to bed.”
Artie followed him as he stumped up the stairs.
No answer, only a slight stiffening of the shoulders.
“I don’t know why I should be sorry, but I’m sorry.”
“You don’t know…?” Alex raised his hands in pantomime exasperation. “Fine.” He started counting her sins out on his fingers. “You grassed me up to Mum and Dad. They called the police to come fetch me, which is massively embarrassing. Mum and Dad are going to send me to a specialist or a therapist or something. And you told Mum about my violin, which I’m not going to hear the end of. You know how keen she was on me playing. Why didn’t you just come find me like last time? Or let me come back by myself? I can take care of myself you know.”
Angry colour had risen in Alex’s cheeks and he was breathing swiftly at the end of his rant.
“You can take care of you self?” Artie felt the tide of her own anger rising to match. “Asleep in the middle of the woods? What if a bad person-?”
“A bad person? Who? In the middle of the woods. Lurking. What bad people?” Alex strode into his bedroom.
Artie hesitated, her mouth open. “There was a… man.”
“No,” Alex stated, hi back to her. “There wasn’t. The copper said that you’d said that. You’re wrong. There was no one around for miles. Just me – in my underpants – looking like a bloody fool.”
His bedroom door thumped shut on her next words. Artie scowled at its panels and huffed in frustration.
She wasn’t wrong. There had been someone else in the woods. A someone that could also be classed as a something.