The Others

by Sarah Merrett. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

Reuben tore along the dark corridor with his satchel bumping against his hip. Moonlight flooded in through a series of tall arched windows on the south of the observatory, casting thick white stripes across the stone floor.

‘Hurry!’ He bumped into a cabinet of books, knocking his glasses askew. Alarm flashed through him, and he pushed them tight to his face. He had never taken his glasses off before. It was too risky. He secured the strap behind his head before hurtling off around the dark corner of the first floor. He slid down the handrail of the staircase into the middle of the grand entrance hall, as the grandfather clock chimed eight.

‘Made it in time!’ Reuben raised his arms in the air triumphantly. He stood on the third stair and cast his eye around the huge echoey room, as if he was about to address an audience. Stone pillars stood around the outside of the circular foyer, but there were no people. The moon’s glow pooled on the tiled floor, illuminating the huge brass solar system model. The orrery’s orbit rings were wider than Reuben was tall, and the bronze, silver and gold planets shimmered.

‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ Reuben tipped an imaginary top hat and bowed. ‘I’m pleased to announce that our expedition was a success,’ he called out to his imaginary crowd. ‘We’ve explored deep into the Amazonian rainforest. Trodden where no human has ever gone. We’ve braved piranha-infested swamps, and battled poisonous spiders as big as your head.’ He smiled as the audience applauded.

‘Thank you.’ He bowed. ‘And I must thank my faithful travelling companion, Inky.’ Inky slunk down the staircase and stalked across the entrance hall. He stopped between two pillars in a square of moonlight. The ginger cat sat like an elegant statue, his paws neatly together, tipped with black fur like he had stepped in an inkwell.