As the shadow people loomed ever closer, Ryan could feel sweat running down his forehead. He pulled the pistol from his jacket and pointed it out in front of him.
‘Stop, or I’ll shoot!’ he shouted.
‘Ryan, no, wait,’ protested Howard, ‘we don’t know what they want!’
Despite Howard’s warnings, Ryan was only listening to his fear now. He fired two shots at the beings, but the bullets seemed to travel straight through them.
‘Bullets don’t stop them!’ exclaimed Ryan in dread.
Suddenly Alice rose from her white plastic chair and opened her arms wide.
‘Shadow beings of the slumberworld, I command you to leave!’ she declared. ‘You will not stop me from finding my heart!’
‘What’s she talking about?’ muttered Howard.
Sophie shrugged her shoulders.
To their collective surprise, the shadow people came to a halt in a circle around them.
‘Be gone, I command you!’ repeated Alice.
Suddenly, all but one of the shadow people faded away from sight, as if they had never been there. The remaining being stood directly in front of Ryan. It was smaller than the others, and Ryan found himself strangely drawn to it. The shadow person held out its right arm and Ryan suddenly became aware that he was walking towards the being. Instinctively he held out his own arm, reaching to grab the shadow person’s hand.
‘Ryan, no!’ cried Sophie.
As Ryan’s hand touched that of the shadow being, he felt a strange sense of familiarity. Then a slither of unimaginable coldness passed through him, and everything blacked out.
When Ryan awoke he found himself back in Howard’s sitting room. Howard and Sophie were standing around him with concerned looks on their faces.
‘Wha...what happened?’ asked Ryan.
‘You fainted,’ said Sophie, crossing her arms. ‘Wimp.’
‘You didn’t just faint,’ interjected Howard, ‘you were showing all signs of entering hibernation. I’ve never seen anything like it from an awaker. Fortunately, you seem to be back with us now.’
‘What happened to the shadow person, and where’s that girl?’ asked Ryan.
‘The shadow person just faded away after it touched you,’ replied Howard. ‘And as for Alice, she’s in the corridor.’
Ryan turned his neck and saw Alice standing in the corridor of Howard’s cottage, looking up the stairs.
My heart is here,’ said Alice.
Howard walked towards the girl. ‘What is this heart you keep talking about?’ he asked.
‘It is my centre,’ replied Alice simply. ‘I lost it many moons ago. Its return to me will bring about the awaking. Such a shame this is all a dream, if my heart was really here, my mission could resume at last.’
‘But it’s not a dream,’ said Sophie, ‘we keep telling you, you’re awake and so are we. It’s everyone else who’s asleep.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Alice, looking up at Sophie and smiling. ‘Or perhaps this is my dream, and it is not yours. Or perhaps we are all dreaming, and none of you know it.’
‘Oh come on guys,’ protested Ryan, finally getting back onto his feet. ‘This girl has clearly escaped from a loony bin.’
‘Ryan Johnson,’ said Alice looking at him directly.
This stopped Ryan in his tracks. ‘How do you know my name?!’ he asked.
‘Ryan Johnson, your dreams are haunted by that sad thing you did all those years ago,’ said Alice. ‘But you mustn’t be sad anymore, the awakening will soon be at hand.’
Then she turned to Sophie.
‘Sophie Simmons,’ continued Alice. ‘The lost girl. We have much in common, you and I.’
‘I know, I can feel it,’ said Sophie.
Finally Alice turned to Howard.
‘Doctor Howard Rutherford, I came to see you in your surgery,’ she stated.
‘I remember,’ said Howard.
‘You couldn’t help me then, but now you can,’ said Alice. ‘My heart is here, I must find it.’
‘I don’t have your heart, I don’t even know what it is,’ said Howard.
‘Soon you will,’ replied Alice.
‘Who are you?’ asked Ryan.
‘I told you,’ smiled Alice, ‘I’m Alice. Oh dear.’
‘What now?’ asked Howard. ‘More shadow people?’
‘Not this time,’ said Alice. ‘It seems you and Ryan will not be staying for the evening.’
Ryan and Howard looked at each other in confusion, but suddenly things became clearer when there was a loud knock at the front door. Howard opened it to find two men dressed in black trench coats standing outside.
‘Howard Rutherford, Ryan Johnson,’ said one of the men, ‘you are hereby being taken into custody by order if the interim government. Please come with us, no harm will come to you if you do exactly as we say.’
‘This is Michael Granger’s doing,’ muttered Howard under his breath, ‘he said he’d find a way to get me to London. Come on Ryan, we’d better go with them.’
Ryan turned to look at Sophie and Alice. ‘We’ll be back soon, I promise,’ he said.
‘Keep an eye on Derek!’ called Howard before they both followed the men out of the door.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Alice, ‘we can look after ourselves can’t we Sophie.’
‘That’s all I’ve ever done,’ sighed Sophie, looking down at the floor.
‘Cheer up, they’ll be back soon,’ said Alice. ‘Come on, let’s play hide and seek.’
Ryan and Howard were bundled into the back of a black limousine which had been clandestinely parked outside. As the car drove off, seemingly destined for London, Howard leaned over to Ryan and whispered in his ear.
‘Whatever you do, don’t tell them about the girl,’ he uttered, ‘I think she might be the key to the whole thing, we can’t trust anyone else with this.’
‘Whatever you say Doc,’ muttered Ryan back.
‘Just one other thing,’ whispered Howard. ‘When that shadow being touched you, what did it feel like?’
Ryan paused for a moment.
‘Holly,’ he said eventually. ‘It felt like Holly. I’m sure it was her.’
‘But that’s impossible,’ said Howard.
‘I’m not quite sure what’s possible anymore Doc,’ replied Ryan.
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