“What are you doing here?” demanded Lisa. “Weren’t you visiting your aunt — oh, I see now, it was all a bloody lie!”
I swallowed; I’d seen Lisa angry before, but nothing like this. My silence, however, only seemed to provoke her further.
“How did you, of all people, hear about Phoenix Town?” There seemed no hint of an old friendship in her voice. Or was there? I could only see her hunger to know the facts at this point.
“Someone mentioned it,” I said, finally finding my voice. “Really,” I added, as Lisa gave me a suspicious look.
She was about to say something — a part of me already knew what she was going to say — and that was when a voice interrupted her from down the room.
“She’s not lying, you clearly can see that, right?” came the voice of an elderly man. I turned and looked at a balding, white-headed figure who was freeing himself from the bed as though he wanted nothing to do with ut. He was looking straight at Lisa, with striking green eyes, and I knew I’d seen that expression before; “So start asking the right questions, won’t you?”
This, I quickly realized was Mr Hooper, Lisa’s dad; of course, she’d mentioned him saying I was visiting him. I laughed at my ignorance.
Lisa had gotten her father’s eyes. Mr Hooper now diverted his glance at me and mumbled through his walrus-like moustache: “Haven’t seen her before, who’s this?”
“This is Jasmin,” said Lisa, even as I was about to speak. “A friend from university. I didn’t expect to see her here,” she gave me a look that could’ve just killed me there.
“Pleasure,” came Mr Hooper’s slightly dreamy voice, holding out a hand to me. And well, suddenly I was in an unexpectedly awkward situation; that hand had a freaking cannula, I couldn’t touch that, for his own good — thankfully, Lisa seemed to have noticed.
“The other hand,” she pointed out in a small voice.
We shook hands. And the old walrus reared back at Lisa, looking down at her with a fleeting impression of a smirk. “I hardly see why you’re angry at her, she is a friend, correct?” Lisa nodded sullenly. “Besides, it’s almost Christmas, forgiveness is in the air!”
Lisa raised an eyebrow, and if my eyes weren’t fooling me, she smiled. “It’s easy to forgive a friend,” I felt a swoop of relief — “But for your own health, you really shouldn’t be getting out of bed. Or wait,” she added quickly, eyes sparkling. “Did you meet someone in the ICU — ooh, a date at the hospital, on Christmas; it just sounds rather strange, don’t you think?”
“Not at all,” flared up Mr Hooper, “But no, I didn’t meet anyone interesting,” said Mr Hooper swiftly, “I just wanted to get away from this lovely argument between two grown-up women — it’s bad for digestion, did you know?”
Mr Hooper seemed to have shut Lisa up as I’d never done before. Containing my urge not to laugh, my respect for this man skyrocketed.
He’d made his point, sure enough, “Come on, then.” I said, tugging at Lisa’s arm. “Maybe you could show me around the place.” Lisa didn’t seem to like the idea; she began to protest, trying to free herself from my grasp — and suddenly, for an instant, my mind went blank. I realized what’d happened soon enough.
Lisa brought back her elbow straight into my stomach; standard self-defence — but bloody hell! I wasn’t trying to kidnap her — I staggered, reeling, as I pulled my hands away and collided on the wall.
“Oh, dear, here comes the history of violence,” said Mr Hooper, retreating to safety under his bed covers.
The boy couldn’t move. No, not even a millimetre. His eyes were shut, and he couldn’t open them. He was frozen to where he was — where ever he was.
But despite all this, he could hear and understood every word which was being said. He couldn’t see, but distinguished three voices; a woman’s, a man’s, and a boy — a teenager’s.
“–Those gentlemen over there will be taking him,” said the woman. “You should be happy — he’s out of any immediate danger.”
“He looks fine to me,” commented the teenager.
“Well, how would you know?” growled the man. “You’re just a little interfering brat.”
“Please,” came the woman’s voice. “The boy’s clearly disturbed, don’t be harsh.”
The teenager seemed to dislike the idea of being thought of as a disturbed child, but he quickly stuttered to a halt what could’ve been the start of an argument.
A moment of silence. The boy noticed a sweetish smell that was tickling incessantly at his nostrils — what was it? Oxygen; pure Oxygen — so was he in a hospital? If so, why? The boy couldn’t remember one bit of what’d happened that got him here.
The sound of footsteps of marble; if they were in a Ward, that would make sense — it was almost empty. In fact, if no one moved, the boy probably wouldn’t have realized that he had company.
“Where are you taking him? Can I visit him?” came the voice of the teenager.
“No, you may not,” snapped the man. “In fact, why should you know? You’re not related to him, you’re not his brother or something.” It sounded like he was implying something.
“Well, well, unlike you, boy, we men are not free and jobless.” The man continued, after a moment’s silence which could’ve only meant the teenager’s inability to retort. “We’ll be taking him now if that’s fine.”
“Oh, yes,” came the woman’s voice. “The procedures are over, he can be transferred any time: should we take him to the ambulance…?”
The woman trailed off rather unexpectedly. “No, there will be no need for that,” said the man.
At this point, there was a sudden burst of footsteps, and the boy felt a jerk which could’ve only meant one thing: they’d been talking about him, all this while. But still; he couldn’t figure out one thing — why talk about him?
Now that he had a general idea of what was going on, he realised a few things; he was going to be taken — somewhere — to treat him from — whatever condition he had.
Gee, he thought to himself, That helps.
Now there was a burst of sunlight on the boy’s shut eyes, and he felt two thick arms lifting him off the bed and on to a cold metal surface. A few voices hushed in strange whispers, and slowly, the door shut in front of him with a slight sound.
“Strap him up,” came a command. There was a scuffle of rough hands and something that bit into the boy’s arms like barbed wire held him down on the frigid surface where he lay motionless.
Though he couldn’t see anything, a picture was forming in the boy’s head, and he didn’t like what he imagined. They were obviously in an — ambulance? No, can’t be, it was too strange.
“You got to admit,” came a voice. “The boy’s got guts, breaking 34-37-A and all. But I thought no one’s escaped from Phoenix Town before. How fun!”
And suddenly the boy felt his cheek stinging. Someone had slapped him.
Maz opened his eyes, looking up blearily at a cross-looking face. He comprehended words being mouthed to him: Geez, Maz, get a grip — but shook his head in dismissal.
He didn’t want to lose track of his thoughts. Rule 34-37-A: Escape from Phoenix Town.
Maz looked out of the window of his classroom, at the faraway dots on the surface of the hill, one of which was his house.
When did I break Rule 34-37-A?
“This is the Town Hall, whatever happens, don’t come here on your own,” Lisa was saying, “You’ll be checked — what?”
I blinked. “You’re a completely different person here, did you know?”
“That Lisa Hooper doesn’t exist here,” she hissed back, though I noticed that she was clearly going pink. “Can you please focus?” she demanded sharply, giving me a serious look.
“Right,” I said, pleasantly flummoxed. “Checked? What’s that mean?”
“Verifying that you’re a documented resident or visitor of Phoenix Town, of which you are obviously neither.”
Lisa had an interesting way of talking, I quickly remembered from past experiences back in University. “Okay,” I said, nodding. “Don’t come here. Right. So why exactly are we here again?”
“There’s a lovely café, right here. You shouldn’t miss this at least.”
At first, I couldn’t believe my ears — why on Earth were we doing such a ludicrous thing? But I quickly came to terms with this as we went up the stairs into a large, open doorframe, above which an oddly disproportionate sign mumbled: The Stone Idol. We walked in and sat down facing an ugly sculpture of a hunter, brandishing a spear above his head, as though rearing for a throw.
“This place is great to talk uninterrupted,” explained Lisa. “Service doesn’t come until called,” she pointed at a small bell that sat on the table. “So tell me,” she looked again like the curious six-year-old I’d seen at University. “Who told you about Phoenix Town? Was it your mother?”
“Because the map belonged to her?” I asked, intercepting her obvious train of thought. “No, I heard the name –” I hesitated, wondering how she’d react, “– from Samarth.”
I’d half-anticipated the reaction. “Samarth?” she asked, her voice an octave higher, so much she might’ve been squeaking. “Samarth who? Not him?” She sagged back into her chair as I nodded, but her doubt was still pronounced as ever.
“I saw him here in Phoenix Town, in the Hospital… you don’t believe me?”
“I d-don’t know,” said Lisa, looking uncomfortable. “You say it as though it’s the truth but –Jasmin –”
She didn’t have to say the rest. “Either way, it’s surprising how anyone unrelated to this place should know about a secret town like this,” she was saying, her voice sounding slightly strained.
“Come on, Jasmin,” said Lisa pointedly. “Think! You only found Phoenix Town because –”
“I had a map, or rather, mum had a map in the first place.”
“Exactly!” cried Lisa. “So, in a way, your mother knew about Phoenix Town. Tell me about her. What did she do?”
“I don’t know, she worked in a morgue,” I was starting to choke up. “The Fawkes’ Morgue, you know, back in Factora. But I won’t be much help on this matter.” I didn’t want to delve deeper into details. No; not here, not now.
Lisa reached across the table and placed her hand on my shoulder. We sat in silence for a while. Then the hand went along my arm and retreated back.
“Fawkes — I’ve heard that name before,” commented Lisa.
“What do you mean?”
“Blowing up the House of Parliament — Guys Fawkes, England, The 5th of November! Come on, if you were going any slower it would only be backwards.”
“So what about Guy Fawkes?”
Silence. “There’s another idea, but that’s too absurd. Heck, not even real.”
“Fawkes the Phoenix?” I asked, eyebrows raised. “Like, Harry Potter?”
Lisa bit her tongue. “Sheesh, now you’re embarrassing me,” she complained. “I just felt like I’d heard the name before.”
Again, silent for a while. I was contemplating everything Lisa’d told me; everything was pointing to one single fact and that was –
“I’m not supposed to be here,” I said, trying to sound relaxed. “Over here, I’m an intruder. I shouldn’t be here — I need to –”
“– Honestly, Jasmin, relax. It’s true, you’re not supposed to be here, but you’ve picked a good day to arrive. Hmm, yeah, I think it’d be fine if you left on Christmas Day — that’d be enough time for you to get a feel for this place.”
“Why Christmas?” I asked.
“Well, not Boxing Day,” said Lisa. “There’s an annual inspection of everything on the twenty-sixth. So obviously, Christmas would be the last day you could stay here. You do not want to be caught.”
“Why’s that?” I asked, but Lisa gave me a look that read: I’ll tell you later.
“You came to Phoenix Town only yesterday,” I began. “I saw you — that was you, on that truck, right?”
“No,” she said. “True, I came only yesterday, but you did not see me. That was not me.”
“Okay, then,” I persisted. “But how did you get into Phoenix Town?”
“Ah,” said Lisa; her eyes were sparkling. “You’ll see soon enough.”