Faustine’s eyes snapped open to see a big-eared boy with bulging eyes leaning over her.
‘He’s coming, Miss!’ The boy shook her by the shoulder. ‘The bad man! And he’s got blokes with chainsaws!’
Everything came to her in a flood. She was in the tree-house! She sat bolt upright, terror clutching at her heart. To her left – beyond the halo of lantern light – the forest was in blackness. She heard the crack of twigs and swung to her right, but she couldn’t see anything for the density of the foliage.
‘Oscar,’ she hissed. ‘Phone the Colonel. My phone’s in my-’
‘I already did.’ Oscar was scrambling back down the ladder, taking the light with him.
She heard men’s voices – coming nearer. ‘Oh, God!’ she whimpered.
‘Don’t be scared, Miss.’ Oscar called up. ‘You’ve got me.’
She was about to hide when she heard Oscar shout out: ‘Fuck off, scum!’
She gasped, appalled. That was no way for a child to speak! Then she heard the response. It came in a low and menacing growl, the accent indisputably Australian.
‘You fuck off you scrawny piece of shit.’
Faustine stiffened. How dare he? How dare that man speak to Oscar like that – her sweet, gutsy, damaged friend?
She threw herself into the combat jacket and flicked up the hood. Half-way down the ladder, she saw the two masks hanging on a branch. Cow? Or pig? Smiling grimly, she snatched up the pig.
Now she was ready for battle.
The kid was feral; screaming the kind of filth that made a grown man shudder. And it would take him a decade to grow into those ears.
‘Piss off, wankers!’ the abuse kept coming.
McPherson lowered his torch and waited for the kid to run out of steam. Mist ghosted the trees. It had been pitch black when they’d left town but now a greyness was creeping in. Behind him, his men shifted, harnesses creaking.
McPherson decided to power up the chainsaws. The noise would be enough to have the kid running for his life. McPherson was about to give the order when he saw a movement. He raised his torch. It was another kid, in camouflage gear, climbing down a ladder from the higher branches. The bare feet took each rung delicately, and then reaching the platform, the kid pivoted and when McPherson saw the face, his heart lodged in his throat.
‘Jesus Christ!’ he croaked. ‘You scared the shit out of me!’
The kid was wearing a pig mask, the cheeks plumped into a horrifying grin, the eye-sockets gaping black holes. The kid took a step forward, McPherson took a step back.
‘How dare you,’ the voice said quietly. And then again, ‘How dare you speak to a little boy like that.’
McPherson didn’t know what he’d been expecting but it wasn’t this: A female. A female with a posh, husky voice; the kind of voice that had colonised the British Empire.
‘I’m … sorry,’ he heard himself stammer.
In the torchlight he saw her toes curled over the edge of the platform. They were white, the nails painted crimson. A silver ring banded the little toe on her right foot. The horror mask, the sexy feet, both shocked and confused him, made the blood pump fast in his veins.