On Monday night, we went on down to our friends Movellas‘ Sony Young Movellist of the Year Awards. Two of our fabulous Spinebreakers, Annie and Emma, were shortlisted for the accolade, with the prize of a publishing deal with Random House up for grabs!
We’ve included extracts from both Annie and Emma’s superb entries below for you to have a read – you’ll definitely be left wanting more – and to inspire you to enter next year.
Extract from Girl with a Thousand Faces, Emma Yeo
The distant peal of church bells sends a chill running down my neck. I count them; one… two… three… All the way to eleven.
Grabbing my threadbare coat from a rusting hook by the door, I stare at it. The little gnaw marks were something – please God let it not be a rat – has made a meal, the blood red dye fading to an unnatural pale colour in places, an ugly pink.
Silence meets me as I step out into the night, enveloping me like an old friend, as I shrug on the coat and begin to run through these familiar streets. The quiet is jarring, unfamiliar and it reminds me what those church bells mean. Less than an hour. I have less than an hour to live.
It isn’t enough, not nearly enough to make it to safety. The streets are slick with rain and I dodge through alleyways and back streets. The moon is high above, looking down and casting judgement on the scene below. I feel so small, so weak, my breath clouding in front of me as I run.
The streets are striped with shadows and at any other time of day I’d be terrified. Now it is close to midnight and I’ll laugh in the face of danger when it comes.
I stumble through the streets, barely noticing the few people I pass as I go. Their faces blur together and they feel to me like the crowds at an unexpected execution. I shouldn’t be running. I should sit in my little house and cry.
Exhaustion sets in and I stagger to a wall, slide down it and stare across the alley at the tempting light of a cafe, it’s door closed against the bitter night.
Normally I would force myself to keep on running. The cold is making me shake, and my jacket is filled with holes. I deserve better than this, even if I am the monster I truly know myself to be.
Pushing myself to my feet I shuffle towards the source of the light and step inside the door. A sharp jangling noise as I do reminds me of those hideous bells and I hug my coat around me tighter.
Prologue from Mendacii Key, Annabel Green
There was a knock at the door. Samuel Watford hastily lowered his glass and swept the papers on his desk to one side, sending them flying into the waste paper basket. Pulling the keyboard forward, his computer whirred to life. Almost as if he could feel the heat of the eyes on his back, Watford scanned uneasily around the room, checking the equipment was back to default, with no interruption recorded. Everything was silent, no stir from beneath him or menacing shock through the air. He was lucky. As each monitor around him flickered on, his eyes flew from one to the next, trying to spot any sign of suspicious activity. Only blank screens and gentle vibrations greeted him. Satisfied that all was well, Watford locked the system and wearily pushed back his chair, wiping his damp brow and longing for another sip of his whisky.
Whoever was standing behind the door knocked a second time.
“Come on in!” Watford called, his deep voice strangely mangled in the dry acoustic. There was a silence before the person knocked again. This time, it was more timid. A moment later, they started gently shuffling their feet. Grumbling, Watford heaved out of his chair and strode irritably to the door. On the fourth knock, he pulled it open.
He struggled to make out the small figure before him with his eyes still adjusting to the brightly lit corridor, yet his stomach turned with the unavoidable pang of recognition.
The girl shrank back slowly, but with a slight frown stretched her hand out to Watford, her eyes widening. Watford took an alarmed step back as the small hand started to tremble. She lifted her head fully and the startling blue eyes met his, burning questioningly into him.
“Daddy?” she asked, quietly.
Watford froze. After a second, he shook his head.
“Daddy?” she repeated, slightly louder, more desperate. “Where are you? Can’t you come home?”
A tear rolled down her cheek, her hand falling limply by her side. Watford took a sharp intake of breath before answering with a long sigh.
“Are you there, Daddy?” the girl sobbed. “Can you hear me? Please come home!”
The man stood in the doorway turned his head, trying to send the child in his mind away.
After a few minutes Watford realised the sobbing had stopped. Feeling queasy, he slowly looked back into the corridor where the girl had been standing.
No one was there. With his heart threatening to jump out of his chest, Watford took a step into the corridor. It was empty, not a soul in sight, not a sound or movement. It was deadly quiet. The single noise of his frantic breathing told Watford he was alone and always had been. The girl had never even been in this doorway.
Watford pictured her face in his mind. He saw the blue eyes, the small pointed features and the tiny head of entrancing hazel waves. The girl had rosy cheeks and a spattering of innocent freckles. She was the child who came to him in his dreams. She was the child who came running up to him and leapt into his arms. She was the child he would see being surrounded by them. She would be screaming and begging for him as they took her away. Never before had he seen her when he was awake. Was it a warning? Or was she just showing him she was still there, waiting for him, safe?
Glancing around, Watford’s attention was suddenly drawn to a tiny movement on his left hand side. It looked as if a lock of brown hair had just flicked round a door at the far end of the corridor. Transfixed, he took several long strides and reached the final door before the lifts, right next to the fire exit. It was slightly ajar. As Watford pushed it open, there was a loud crash from inside: something had just fallen from one of the many shelves around the tiny room. There was no way even a small girl could be hiding in there. It was just a cupboard. Sighing, Watford pulled the door shut again, backing out into the corridor.
“Mr Watford?” a voice called from the other end of the corridor.
Watford spun round, startled. One of the new junior employees was closing the door to the Communications Centre behind him. The man walked quickly and nervously up to Watford, holding out his hand.
“Alan Stevenson, Sir, new Communications Manager, I started last week. I think you knew Morris?”
Watford drew back and scrutinised the twitching face before him. Stevenson was in his mid twenties with a head of dark, bushy hair and whiskers. He also had a large nose and toothy grin. He did not look trustworthy. He looked like he was hiding something, and Watford knew he was the type who Teneta did not like. They would dispose of him the moment he was caught up to no good. Watford took Stevenson’s hand and shook it firmly.
“Welcome, sir, I will be glad to be of use to you. Any time you need me, I should be in my office. I hope that you are competent enough that we will not have to meet often: I’m sure you’ll settle in quickly and adapt to our ways. Is there anything you wanted?”
Stevenson scratched his head, absent minded.
“Unit 2 just called through for you, the Executive would like to speak to you in his office immediately. He requests that any work you are doing should be postponed and you will be pardoned. They say it’s urgent.”
“Is that all?”
Stevenson looked around nervously and lowered his voice.
“Why, Sir, I was wondering of what…”
“No worries, Stevenson, it is nothing of great importance to you. Good day.”
Watford cleared his throat and turned on his heels, heading back towards his office.
“Ah, sir!” called Stevenson. Watford halted. “Morris left a few documents in his office addressed to you. I shall drop them into your office when I next have a spare moment, if that’s alright?”
“No worries, Stevenson,” repeated Watford, “although I would be grateful if you could. Good day.”
Stevenson nodded as Watford resumed his quick pace up to the other end of the corridor and out of sight.
Watford headed straight for the lifts, calling one hastily. He tapped his feet impatiently as his thoughts buzzed. Savage had replaced Morris. Watford did not know why, but feared for the worst. Morris had been loyal; he would not have betrayed him to Savage. Was it another worker in Communications taking their chance to gain power and favour with Teneta? Had Morris himself been betrayed? If he had, it was bad news for Watford. Bad news for the plans he had spent these past two years building up. Now he had made a breakthrough had he finally been caught? Watford began to feel uneasy. He had a sudden urge to order the lift back to his office: he wanted to check everything was as it should be. His hand flew to the chest pocket of his long overcoat, feeling reassuringly for the small cylindrical object floating in the lining. Just as Watford made up his mind, the lift doors slid quietly open before he could punch in the level to take him back down, and he had no choice but to venture forwards.
Unit 2 was buzzing with life. Doors were slamming as people paced along the corridors and turned off into what seemed a hundred different rooms along the way. Computers whirred on every desk with six more lifts on the opposite wall, each one packed with employees, employers and general mishmash. The low murmur of workers on phones and raised voices from the many meetings in the adjacent rooms made the place feel like a beehive of frantic business. It was nothing like what Watford worked in now, yet it was so familiar to him that he stepped casually out of the lift and joined the human train of bodies heading down the corridor, towards the main offices. Many people greeted him as he walked by, generally with a small nod or just a respectful look his way. As Watford journeyed further into Unit 2, the train of workers slowly filtered off into different offices, meetings and centres, leaving him virtually alone as he headed towards the largest office at the furthest end of the main corridor. There was a small reception area outside the office and as he approached, the receptionist gestured him towards the tall double doors, sending him straight in.
Tony Savage was sat at the far end of a long mahogany desk which was taking up the width of the office. His broad cheekbones and small beady eyes made him look vaguely barbaric, strong muscles pulsating down each arm. Leaning right back into his large chair, he was gently puffing at a cigarette. On seeing Watford enter, he swiftly inhaled once more before crushing the end of his cigarette lightly against the corner of the desk, dropping the burned out end into a silver tray he kept by his side.
“My apologies, friend!” He called up to Watford, who had stopped in the doorway. “I am sorry to pull you so suddenly from your work. I have not forgotten how you feel about my smoking habits. Do come in! What can I get you?”
“What business is this, Mr Savage?” replied Watford coldly, “I was told it was urgent. I think you can stop with the pleasantries and can we discuss what you called me here for. I am no fool!”
Savage sighed and gestured to the chair opposite his.
“Well neither am I.”
There was a silence as Watford pulled out the chair and sat. When seated, he wearily pushed it back, staring at Savage.
“Why kill Morris?” he spat, narrowing his eyes.
“I was obliged to as a warning. Merely a warning, as I do not believe he was working by himself, Watford.”
“Are you accusing me of involvement?” said Watford, as he leant forward to glare at Savage. “I hardly knew him, we were just working together.”
“A cunning trick, may I say,” smirked Savage, “and it would have worked had I not used the same one myself. You did not know him so he wouldn’t have enough information to give away. You are worse than me; not everyone is a grass.”
“I do not live in lies, Savage, unlike you. Who says it was him I didn’t trust?”
Savage leant forward. Watford’s nose was centimetres from his.
“Sometimes, we have to live in lies. I thought you knew that long ago. Well, our current positions in Teneta show what lies can do for you.”
He gave an unpleasant chuckle as he pulled out another cigarette. Watford scowled as Savage lit it and began inhaling with deliberated rattling breaths.
“Maybe this is all a lie, my old friend,” said Watford dryly as he sat back and turned his head, trying to avoid the putrid fumes Savage was now wafting into his face. Watford coughed, “Please, my health!” he cried.
“This is a formal warning,” snarled Savage suddenly as he carried on puffing. “We know what you’re up to and all the evidence points to you. Either you stop what you are doing or start running. I hope you can run fast, Mr Watford. Alternatively, I hope you can correct your mistakes and work with me again, as an equal.”
“Vivo in mendacii” replied Watford, sarcastically.
“Aren’t we all, Watford? Aren’t we all?” said Savage patronisingly, as Watford threw back his chair in disgust and strode to the door. Watford turned back and nodded to his old friend.
“Good day, Mr Savage.”
The door swung shut behind Watford before Savage could answer.