January has rolled around again and with it the end to my challenge for 2013 which was to read 52 books – one every week of the year. I’m pleased to say I achieved my target and to celebrate I’m repeating something I did last year. I’ve made a story which contains all the titles of the books I’ve read over the last twelve months. It wasn’t nearly so easy this year but then there were a lot more titles this time round! I hope you like it, I’ve linked titles to my review/the GoodReads page.
I’m calling it: Escape to Horror.
When I left The Red House that morning, I had no idea of the adventure in store. In fact it would be while I was On The Road that my life would really start Catching Fire. My sister Katherine is always accusing me of over-dramatising everything – “Oh look,” she’ll yawn as I started telling a story, “It’s The Universe versus Alex Woods again.” Little does she know that sometimes I have a reason to Fear the Worst. It’s hard to explain to someone like her how Whatever You Love can seem like Embers of a fire to one person but to you, it burns with the light of A Thousand Splendid Suns and when something threatens that thing it’s a Dark Matter which feels like Black Water Rising all around you. But enough about her, this is the story of The Road and how my life changed. It might seem like The Diary of a Young Girl right now but stick with me.
After the Snow was cleared from our street; I headed out into the world. Everything Was covered in a fine white powder – the trees looked Lost at Sea and the Rivers of London were home to confused ducks trying to swim. Our postie, Stuart Lisey however, jogged merrily past – “This is Small Change for Stuart!” he waved. He’s from Alaska so well used to the snow.
I waved back but didn’t stop to chat, I had no time for Lisey’s Story today; I was headed for town, bright lights and adventure. But I didn’t make it. Not exactly.
Not far along the road I stopped, sure I could hear Whispers Underground. I paused and crouched down, trying to work out what it was I could hear but there was nothing for a moment, then a flash of light, a scream of “Mind The Child!!” and then nothing.
When I woke up there were stars before my eyes but as they cleared I could see a strange face peering down at me. “Vicky Angel’s back with us.” The face said and then it disappeared and I could hear whispers in the corner. I hauled myself up onto one elbow and looked around. There were three signs on the wall – Life! Death! Prizes! – they screamed at me in bright colours and flashing lights. The one nearest me was Prizes! which I could only hope was a good thing. I was lying on the floor and I saw that the face I’d seen earlier belonged to a little man who couldn’t be taller than knee-height. He was talking to a woman who was taller than anyone I’d seen before. They looked like a right Double Act! Seeing me moving the man came over and smiled at me. “My name’s Artemis Fowl,” He said, “You must be Joyland’s newest arrival. I wonder how it is you found us here, Far From the Madding Crowd as we are. Personally, I was following the Moon Over Soho when I crossed a sand Dune and found myself here. My colleague,” and here he paused to glance over at the woman he’d been talking to, “Was a queen in her own land, but she got fed up of being ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and wanted to live her own life. So what’s your story? The Secret History inside your head?”
I opened my mouth to reply but the little man’s head jerked and he scuttled away. “You know what we call him?” The tall woman on the other side of the room called out, “’The Hobbit‘. Because he’s so little and he lives in a hole in the ground down by The Deathly Hallows.” She seemed to think that explained the odd nickname but she may have been talking Norwegian for all I knew. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”
She was away the moment I’d scrambled to my feet, striding out into the sun. I was still unsteady on my feet and wavering I stepped out into the Brave New World beyond the room I’d woken up in. Looking down for a moment I saw that the path in front of me had a Noughts & Crosses motif and I was standing on a cross. Instinct told me to avoid the noughts and I realised I was right when two steps on a Mockingjay launched itself out of the circle on the path and flew past so close to me I could feel its wings brush past my arm. I’d never seen one before, my Dad told me that they used to live in the woods around our village but one day they all just disappeared. Then I remembered another story from home. The one about The 100 year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. All of a sudden it didn’t seem so far-fetched; in fact I had a feeling I might know where that man had gone to.
After this revelation I had to rush to catch up with my leader who was marching off like The Kite Runner I’d watched one year at our town festival. That had been His Last Bow, he’d run so fast that his heart had burst but he’d caught the kite. I stopped running for a moment as I suddenly realised the woman in front of me had vanished. I looked around but she was nowhere in sight. Defeated and thoroughly confused I wandered down the path to my left towards a crowd hoping to spy her.
I pushed through the group and saw the words The Hunger Games on a banner above a sobbing young girl on the stage. “What’s happening here?” I wondered aloud.
“It’s the same old thing, ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker‘,” The man next to me explained, “She’s The Book Thief we’ve been after all month so now we’re teaching her a lesson. Until she admits it, she’s not eating. Suffer the Little Children, that’s what I say. It’s the only way they learn.”
To the left of the stage Tracy was sat on, there was a tower emblazoned with the words ‘Life of Pi’ and right at the top I could just make out a pair of young boys held on with ropes and peering over the side with a look of terror on their faces. The man beside me followed my gaze and sighed, “Oh. Them. They came here together and they wouldn’t stop crying. We put them there and as long as they keep sobbing we keep raising the platform. Eventually they’ll realise how good it is here and we’ll let them down.”
I gasped, I couldn’t believe the horrors these people were inflicting on these innocent children. I thought I’d found myself in a land of freedom and joy but it seemed very different now. Spinning around I saw other ‘punishment booths’ and one in particular drew my eye. A few feet away from the main crowd was a boy about my age who was limping along on a treadmill beneath a sign declaring ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. I stole across to look at him and I was shocked by how thin he was and by the broken look in his eyes. As I was standing there he raised his head and our eyes met. He opened his mouth to speak and I could see that in his mouth there was only a single White Fang and that his lips were cracked and bloody. “Get out of here,” he breathed in a raspy voice, “you must, get out of here. But be careful, if they catch you running you’ll end up in here with me.” With that his head dropped and he wouldn’t look at me again. I began to back away until I felt a hand on my shoulder. Craning my neck I realised that my guide had returned and was standing over me smiling at the boy on the treadmill.
“There you are” she turned her smile on me. “I was worried you’d got lost. We think you’ll fit in here perfectly, you’re just right for The Casual Vacancy we’ve got open at the moment. Just one formality to check, we need to know about your parentage.”
I’ve lost track of the days since then but there has been no joy in my life since. It turns out that they did want me for my genome, people only ever stumble into Joyland by chance and children are very rare. The punishments are their way of ensuring dominance but what they really need is a way to bring in new life. Following the recommendations of some doctor in his book – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – they’ve started a breeding programme but it was mostly destroyed by disease just before I arrived, Love in the Time of Cholera is rarely successful.
I haven’t given them any children yet. Every night Before I Go To Sleep I pray to whoever may be up there that someday I’ll find my way out of here and back to the family I never dreamed I’d miss so much. Until then I’m doing my best to break whatever rules I can so that I might earn a reprieve and find myself in one of those punishment booths that filled me with dread the first day I was here.