Today I am able to share an extract with you, which hopefully will hook you in and encourage to read the rest - it really is a brilliant read, with some really intriguing characters, not at all your typical kidnapping story.
"Eight-year-old Carmel has always been different - sensitive, distracted, with an heartstopping tendency to go missing. Her mother Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter's strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own.
When she takes Carmel for an outing to a local festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears into the crowd. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own. But do the real clues to Carmel's disappearance lie in the otherworldly qualities her mother had only begun to guess at?"
For my eighth birthday I want to go and see a maze. ‘Carmel. What do you know about mazes?’ Mum says. If I think hard I can see a folded puzzle in my mind that looks like a brain.
‘I’ve heard things,’ I say. And Mum laughs and says OK. We don’t have a car so we go on the bus, just the two of us. The windows are steamed up so I can’t see where we’re going. Mum’s got on her favourite earrings which are like bits of glass except colours sparkle on them when she moves.
I’m thinking about my birthday, which was last Thurs- day, and now it’s Saturday and I’m thinking about how my friend gets cards and presents from her nan but Mum doesn’t talk to her mum and dad even though they’re still alive. I don’t mind so much about the cards and presents but I’d like to know what they look like.
‘Mum, have you got a photo of your mum and dad?’
Her head shoots round and the earrings flash pink and yellow lights. ‘I’m not sure. Maybe, why?’
‘I just wonder what they look like sometimes and if they look like me.’ It’s more than sometimes.
‘You look like your dad, sweetheart.’
‘But I’d like to know.’
She smiles. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
When we get off the bus the sky is white and I’m so excited to see a real maze I run ahead. We’re in this big park and mist is rolling around in ghost shapes. There’s a huge grey house with hundreds of windows that are all looking at us. I can tell Mum’s scared of the house so I growl at it. Sometimes she’s scared of everything, Mum – rivers, roads, cars, planes, what’s going to happen and what’s not going to happen. But then she laughs and says, ‘I’m such a silly old thing.’Now we’re at the top of this hill and I can see the maze below and it does look like a brain. I think it’s really funny I’ve thought about a brain inside my brain and try to explain but I don’t do it very well and I don’t think Mum really gets it. But she’s nodding and listening anyway and standing there with her long blue coat all wet from the grass at the bottom. She says, ‘That’s very interesting, Carmel.’ Though I’m not sure she really understood, but Mum always tries to. She doesn’t just ignore you like you’re just a mouse or a bat. So we go in.
And I know all of a sudden it’s a place I love more than anywhere I’ve ever been. The green walls are so high the sky’s in a slice above me and it’s like being in a puzzle but in a forest at the same time. Mum says the trees are called yew, and spells it out because I laugh and ask, you? I run on ahead down the path in the middle where the grass is squashed into a brown strip and Mum’s far behind me now. But it doesn’t matter because I know how mazes work and that even if I lose her, we’ll find each other sooner or later.
I carry on round corners and each place looks the same. Bright red berries pop out of the green walls and birds fly over my head. Except I don’t see them fly from one side of the sky to the other – they’re above the high green walls so I only see them for a second and then they’re gone. I hear someone on the other side of the wall.
‘Carmel, is that you?’
And I say no even though I know it’s my mum – it doesn’t sound quite like her.
She says, ‘Yes it is, I know it’s you because I can see your red tights through the tree.’
But I don’t want to go so I just slip away quietly. It starts getting dark, but I still feel at home in this place. Now, it’s more like a forest than a maze. The tops of the trees stretch up, up and away, and get higher, like the dark’s making them grow. There’s some white flowers gleaming and once I see a piece of rope hanging from a branch, I think maybe a child like me used it as a swing. It’s in the middle of a path and I go right up to it so my nose is nearly touching the frayed bit at the end and it twists and turns in the breeze like a worm. Dark green smells are all around and birds are singing from the middle of the walls. I decide to lie under a tree to rest on the soft brown earth because I feel tired and dreamy now. The smell of the earth comes up where I’m squashing it and it smells dark and sweet. Something brushes across my face and I think it’s an old leaf because it feels dead and scrapy.
The birds don’t sound like they’re singing now, more like chatting, and the breeze is making the trees rustle. And I hear my mother calling me but she sounds just like the rustling and the birds and I know I should answer her but I don’t.
I ran down hallways of yew. Each one looked the same and at the end, every time, I turned a corner to see another endless green corridor in front of me. As I ran I shouted, ‘Carmel, Carmel – where are you?’
Eventually, when there was only enough light to just about see I stumbled on the entrance. I could see the big grey house through the gap and the front door looked like a mouth that was laughing at me.
Across the field was the man who had taken our money, leaving. He was walking towards the brow of the hill and already a long way from the house.
‘Please, come back.’ My ragged shout didn’t feel like it had come from me. He hadn’t heard. The sound was swept up by the wind and carried away in the other direction. Only crows answered me with their caws. I began running towards him, shouting. He seemed to be walking very fast and his figure was disappearing into the last of the light. Finally he must have caught my cries and I saw him stop and turn his head. I waved my arms about and even from such a distance I could see his body stiffen, sensing danger. I must have looked crazy, though I didn’t think about that then. When I caught up with him he waited for me to get my breath back as I rested my hands on my knees. His face under his old-fashioned cloth cap was watchful.
‘My little girl. I can’t find her,’ I managed to say after a minute.
He took his cap off and smoothed his hair. ‘The one with red legs?’
‘Yes, yes – the little girl with red tights.’
We set off towards the maze. He switched on his torch to show the way.
‘People don’t just go into mazes and never come out,’ he said reasonably.
‘Has anyone else been here today?’ I asked. My throat closed up waiting for his answer.
‘No. At least, there was a couple here this morning. But they’d gone by the time you arrived.’
‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’
He stopped and turned. ‘I’m sure. Don’t worry, we’ll find her. I know this maze like the back of my hand.’ I felt so grateful then to be with this man who had the plan of the puzzle imprinted on him.
As we approached the maze he switched his torch off. We didn’t need it any more. A big moon had risen and lit up the place like a floodlight at a football match. We went in through the arched entrance cut into the woven trees. In the moonlight the foliage and the red berries had turned to black.
‘What’s the little girl’s name again? Karen?’
‘No, no. Carmel.’
‘Carmel.’ His voice boomed out.
We walked fast, shouting all the way. He turned the torch back on and pointed it under the hedges. There were rustlings around us and once he pointed the light straight into the eyes of a rabbit that froze for a moment before bolting across our path. I could tell he was working through the maze methodically from the plan.
‘I think we should call the police,’ I said, after about twenty minutes. I was becoming frantic again.
‘Maybe. We’re nearly at the centre now though.’
We turned another corner and there she was, in the crook of the hedge. The torchlight flashed over her red legs poking out from underneath the black wall. I put both hands into the gap and dragged her out. Her body felt pliant and warm and I could tell at once she was asleep. I lifted her into my lap and rocked her back and forth and kept saying to the man smiling down at us, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ I smiled back at him and held her lovely solid warmth.
How many times I was back in that place that night. Even after we were home and safely tucked into bed, I kept dreaming I was there again. Walking round and round in circles and looking. Sometimes the rabbit bolted away – but sometimes it stopped right in the middle of the path and stared at me, its nose twitching.
The Girl in the Red Coat is out now and you can get it here:
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