Out of Time

by Claire Lewis. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

Click clack THUD! Not far now. I struggle on, muscles protesting, head down, concentrating grimly on dragging my enormous suitcase over each uneven slab of the pavement.

I could kill my mum and dad. How could they just forget to collect me from the station? I didn’t have enough money left to get a taxi, and no buses go near my house, so I decided to walk, lugging my suitcase and struggling beneath the weight of my rucksack, which is much heavier now that it’s stuffed with souvenirs and presents for my family. My self-obsessed, forgetful family, who don’t deserve any presents.

I rang them from the station, of course – number unrecognised. I texted them – the texts wouldn’t send. Same thing with my brother Ewan’s number. It was as if they all no longer exist. I bet I know what’s happened, though. Dad will be listening to loud music upstairs. Mum will be engrossed in some work project on the computer. Ewan will be playing his guitar, oblivious to everything around him.

I finally reach the turning into my road – Magnolia Close – a cul-de-sac of identical 1970s detached houses. Ours is number 38, last on the left, backing onto open fields. Click clack THUD. Click clack THUD. Keep going. Almost there.

As I reach the end of the cul-de-sac, I look up, expecting to see our battered old Volvo on the drive in front of me, and anticipating the guilty shock on my parents’ faces and their apologies when they realise what they’ve done – or not done, more like.

There’s no Volvo on the drive. It’s a red Skoda, our neighbour’s car. Why would Ian park his Skoda on our drive? I look to the left to see if Ian’s drive is empty. A white Renault – Mrs Hill’s. What’s going on? Some sort of weird game of musical cars? Anyway, all will become clear once I’ve talked to Mum and Dad.