The Einstein Code

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Thriller for ages 9-14 — or you decide

BANG! Ben woke, panicking at the noise downstairs, until he realised it would just be Mum getting in. He got up to find out why she was home so late, but as he reached the doorway, he heard a man speaking downstairs. He froze, hardly daring to breathe, listening.

‘She just says there was a meetin’, not wharrit was about.’

‘Yeah but he can’t know there was a meetin’,’ another Mancunian man replied.

The phone downstairs bleeped and announced, ‘Message erased. You have no new messages.’

‘Check around, don’t just stand there gawpin’.’

Hearing them move about downstairs Ben opened his bedroom door wider to see if Mum had heard them too. Her door was shut. She must be asleep in there, when he needed her so much. He waited, willing her to appear, but she didn’t.

Mum!’ he breathed, desperate for a response, but of course there was none. He would have to shout to wake her up and with them downstairs, he daren’t.

He pulled his door wider and ventured out into the darkness, heart hammering, breath ragged, mouth dry. If they left the lounge they’d see him at the top of the stairs, but there was no other way to reach her. As he carefully placed his foot down, a treacherous floorboard creaked beneath him.

He froze.

‘What was tha’?’

‘Could it be the kid upstairs?’

Me?

‘’E’ll be at ’er sister’s, Pete said.’

‘Sweet. So ’e won’t know she’s missin’ till mornin’.’

‘NO!’ The cry was wrenched from deep within him, a howl of horror and shock and despair. The agony doubled him over, but as he straightened and saw her door still shut, he knew for sure she wasn’t home. So where was she?

He charged downstairs. The lounge door opened and a man emerged, tall, bald and bulky. Ben shouldered him off and kept going, through the open door, onto the empty drive that should have contained her car and out into the cold, dark night.

‘GERRIM!’

A white Mercedes saloon with tinted windows was parked outside, presumably theirs. It faced the top of the road, so Ben ran down it, desperate to escape, desperate to find help, desperate to find her. Heavy footsteps pounded down the drive as he turned the corner, so he veered left towards the main road, just as an engine flared into life.

He raced towards the shops, usually bustling with helpful staff and friendly shoppers, but now, in the dead of night, deserted – yet still brightly lit. In his white T-shirt and pants he’d stand out like a peacock in a penguin parade.

He turned left towards the park then left again towards the library, where there were lots of dark side streets to duck down. He needed a phone, fast. His friends’ parents might help, but might not hear him, or choose not to answer the door in the middle of the night. In the absence of Mum the only person he could truly count on was Aunt Miriam, but she lived two miles away in Didsbury. Twenty minutes, twenty-five tops, he reckoned, wishing he had running shoes on and not bare feet.

Turning down Thornfield Road he heard a car approaching, so decided to cut through the park. The gates were shut and secured by a single internal bolt. With the engine getting ominously louder Ben curled his fingers through the ornate ironwork and pushed, but the bolt was stiff and resisted.

Come on!’ he urged, pushing with all his might. As he spotted the car rounding the corner, a white Mercedes heading towards him, the surge of fear gave him the impetus to beat the bolt. He yanked open the gate and raced through into the dark park, diving behind the screening trees as the car purred past. He got up and ran, but only managed a few paces before the car stopped. At the traffic lights? Or was someone getting out to grab him?

He headed for the nearest exit, past the play area onto Mauldeth Road, but to get to Didsbury Road he’d have to turn left towards them. Unless he tried the track by the allotments? It led towards Didsbury, maybe not all the way, but at least the first part of the journey would be pedestrianized, so Mercedes-proof. It was a dark, narrow footpath, which he’d never consider on a normal night, but this was the weirdest night ever – and getting weirder, and scarier, by the minute.

The park exit was open so he went straight through, but a few paces on he heard the car start up. It turned towards him, only seconds away. He plunged into the nearest garden, hurdled a flowerbed onto the lawn and crouched behind some giant rhododendrons, just beating the car, which was travelling unnervingly slowly. He found a gap between the waxy leaves and peered out.

A face, bald, bearded and angry, was staring back at him, leaning out of an open window, as if searching for something. Or someone.

Me, Ben thought, sick with fear. He’s searching for me. He should never have stopped. He shouldn’t have hidden. He should have kept running. He’d been so stupid. He crouched, shivering, awaiting the inevitable.

But slowly, unnervingly slowly, the car continued on. Had the man not seen him? Ben forced himself to wait, pressed into the leaves, with cold dew trickling down his neck, until he finally heard the car round the bend towards the tennis club.

He left the soft damp grass and ran down the hard path and across the painfully stuccoed road. He sprinted the last few feet of pavement then swung onto the soothing mud of the allotment track, which quickly became painfully stony, but he didn’t falter. He had to find help fast.

He was safely shrouded in darkness by the time they returned, but as he passed the brambles where every September he and Mum picked blackberries, his mind was spinning with questions.

Who are they? How do they know about us? Where is she?

But the only people that could tell him were out to get him.

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