"It was just a movie monster," Dervish says.

"No. It was real. It killed Emmet."

Advertisement

We're still in the alley. The blood's being washed away and people are chattering about the big scene with the demon. I grabbed Dervish as soon as I could move. Told him what I thought. He thinks differently.

"Grubbs, come on, I said it was going to be realistic. You're-"

"I know what I saw!" I retort, voice rising. "That was a demon, like Lord Loss! It killed Emmet!"

Juni looks at me oddly. Bill-E is gawping openly. Dervish smiles crookedly at them, takes hold of my elbow and marches me out of earshot. "Are you insane?" he hisses as we turn a corner. "We're on a film set. That was a guy in a costume. A very convincing costume, but just-"

-- Advertisement --

"Don't tell me you thought that wasn't real," I moan. "Didn't you feel it in your gut, the same thing you felt when we faced Lord Loss? The magic in the air?"

Dervish glares at me. Starts to say something. Stops, his expression softening. "I've been a fool. I thought you'd got over the Lord Loss incident, but I guess you haven't."

"Of course I haven't 'got over' it!" I snort. "You don't 'get over' demons murdering your parents and sister! But I've dealt with it. Moved on. This isn't delayed shock. I know what I saw and that was a real bloody demon."

"You're hysterical," Dervish says.

"No," I snarl. "Look at me. Look into my eyes. I'm not being a big kid. That. Was. A. Demon. Nobody can mimic the look and movements-the aura-of a real demon. I don't care how many special-effects artists work on it. Some things can't be replicated, by anybody, ever."

"Grubbs..." Dervish can't think of anything else to add.

"Where's Emmet?" I challenge him. "If he was acting, why didn't he come out when Davida yelled 'cut'?"

"They took him away to wash the blood off," Dervish says.

I shake my head. "I bet you're wrong. I bet we can't find him."

Dervish sighs impatiently. "OK. Let's go look for Emmet. But!" He raises a finger. "When we find him and you see that he's unharmed, I want you to accept it. I don't want you saying it's not really Emmet, it's a changeling, or any nonsense like that. OK?"

"Fine," I smile bitterly.

Grumbling sourly, Dervish leads me away in search of Emmet Eijit, even though I know in my heart that the only place we'll find him now is amidst the bones and scattered shreds of skin in some dirty demon's den.

Emmet's not in any of the trailers. Nobody's seen him. I shoot Dervish a meaningful look, but he waves it away and goes looking for Davida. She's still in the alley, talking with a technician. We wait for her to finish, then Dervish nudges forward and asks if she knows where Emmet is. Says we want to congratulate him on his performance.

"Of course!" Davida cries. "Hell, I want to too. I plain forgot about him. That was amazing. I loved the final touch-the scream for help. It worked perfectly. No need for a second take. He'll be getting the blood cleaned off, so-"

"No," I interrupt. "We checked. He isn't in make-up."

"Oh. Then I guess... Hey, Chuda! Where'd Emmet get to?"

A tall, thin man without eyebrows steps forward. Chuda Sool, the first assistant director and Davida's closest confidant. They've worked together on her last four films. He's a quiet sort, keeps to the background, makes sure everything's running smoothly, tries to head off problems before they bother Davida.

"There's been a flare-up," Chuda says softly. "Perhaps we should speak about it in private."

"What are you talking about?" Davida growls. "What happened?"

"Nora-Emmet's mother-ran into Tump Kooniart after shooting," Chuda says. "They had a huge argument. Tump said some very nasty things. He upset her. Nora grabbed Emmet, demanded a car, collected their belongings and..." Chuda shrugs.

"They left?" Davida barks. "Are you mad? Nobody leaves until shooting finishes. It's in their contract. Get them back!"

"I can't," Chuda says. "When Nora calms down, maybe we can convince her to return, but-"

"She has no choice!" Davida insists. "She signed the contract. They have to stay on set for the duration."

"You're absolutely correct," Chuda says patiently. "But she went anyway. You can withhold Emmet's payment and maybe force them back that way, but for the time being..." He shrugs.

"Told you," I mutter, glancing up at Dervish. Then I turn and walk off, not wanting to waste my time on more ridiculous excuses. Emmet's dead, slaughtered by a demon. And if his mum's missing, that means she was probably killed too. Time for Grubbs Grady to make an ultra-quick exit from Slawter!

"You can't just walk off," Dervish argues as I pack my bag.

"Watch me." I turn to Bill-E, who's standing by his bed, blinking like a startled owl. "You're coming too. I'm not leaving you to end up like Emmet."

"It looks bad, especially as there's no sign of Emmet," Dervish says. "But we need to make sure. Chuda could have been telling the truth. Emmet's mother-"

"Bull!" I snort. "There was no argument with Tump Kooniart. Chuda made that story up. Emmet was killed by a demon. His mum's dead too, I guess. Chuda must be working for the demon, since he lied to cover up the truth. And I doubt if he's the only one."

"Wait a minute," Bill-E splutters. "You believe that was a real demon? You think Emmet was really killed? Are you mad?"

"Maybe," I laugh shortly. "But if I am, I'm going to be mad far, far away from Slawter. And you're coming with me. I won't leave you behind." I look hard at Dervish. "I won't."

"OK," Dervish sighs. "I won't keep you here against your will. But you're overreacting. Until we know for sure, we should-"

There's a knock at the door. Juni Swan. "Can I come in?"

I go stiff. Is Juni working with Chuda Sool and the demon? Has she been sent to convince me that my imagination has run wild? I like Juni. I'd hate to think that she's evil. But if she backs up Chuda's story...

"I wanted to check that everything's all right," Juni says, eyeing the bag which I'm in the middle of packing.

"Did Chuda send you?" I ask tightly.

"No. I came because I heard you telling Dervish that Emmet had been killed by a real demon. I wanted to know what you meant."

"I'd have thought that was obvious."

"You can't truly believe that was a real demon," Juni says. "Demons don't exist, do they, Dervish?"

Dervish clears his throat. "Well, I wouldn't say that exactly."

"But... we're making a film about demons. That was just an act. Emmet-"

"-has mysteriously disappeared," I cut in.

Juni frowns. "Excuse me?"

"Nora had a fight with Tump Kooniart," Dervish explains. "The way we heard it, she lost her temper, grabbed Emmet, demanded a car and took off."

"But she can't have," Juni says. "Their contract..."

"They tore it up," Dervish says softly. "Allegedly."

Juni's frown deepens. Then she looks at me, expression clearing. "That explains the bag. You think this confirms what you suspected. You're getting out before the demons kill you too."

"Damn straight."

Juni nods slowly. "And if I try to convince you that Emmet hasn't been killed... that demons aren't real... would you think I was part of a conspiracy?"

I hesitate, not wanting to offend her if she's innocent.

"I don't know anything about a fight between Nora and Tump, or why Nora would have been allowed to leave," Juni says steadily. "And it's strange that it happened so quickly, without them saying goodbye to anyone. You might be right. The demon could have been real. Maybe it did kill Emmet."

Juni reaches inside the light jacket that she's wearing and pulls a pink mobile phone out of a pocket. She holds it towards me. As I take it, suspicious, she says, "I have contact numbers for everyone connected to the children working on this film. Nora's number is in there. I'd like you to call her."

I glance up sharply. "No tricks," Juni says. "I don't know what will happen when you dial that number. I'm making no promises. I think Nora will answer, or if she doesn't, you can leave a message and she'll phone back shortly. But short of us getting a car and tearing after them in hot pursuit, I think this is the only way to determine the truth."

I stare at the buttons. I don't want to do this. I want to pass the phone back to Juni, finish packing and get the hell out.

But I can't. Because maybe-just maybe-I called this wrong. Maybe the fear dates back to my fight with Lord Loss and my mind's playing tricks on me. I'm pretty sure it isn't. But if I refuse to dial, I'll look like a crackpot.

I unlock the phone. Thumb up the list of names. "Is it under E or N?" I ask.

"N for Nora," Juni says.

I search for the Ns. There's a lot of them. I scroll down. There it is-Nora Eijit. I hit the dial button. It rings. Once. Twice. Three times. Four. Fi-

"I don't want to talk about it!" a woman's voice snaps. "Kooniart can fry in the fires of hell! You tell him-"

"Mrs. Eijit?" I interrupt.

A pause. "Who's this?"

"Grubbs Grady. Emmet's friend."

"Oh. I'm sorry. I saw Juni's name come up, so I assumed..."

"I'm ringing from her phone."

"I see. Do you want to speak to Emmet?"

"Yes please." Speaking mechanically, figuring this could be any woman-I don't know Mrs. Eijit's voice well enough to make a definite identification. Waiting for the kicker, for her to say he's asleep, or he doesn't want to talk to me, or-

"I'll pass you over."

The sound of her phone being handed across. The noise of a car engine in the background. Then-Emmet. "Hi, Grubbs," he says quietly, miserably.

"Hi," I reply weakly.

"I can't talk now. I'm sorry I split without saying goodbye. I'm hoping we can come back later, when-"

"No way!" Emmet's mum shrieks. "Not unless that fat fool Kooniart gets down on his knees and-"

"I'll have to call you back," Emmet says quickly and disconnects.

I look at the little red button on Juni's phone. Slowly, reluctantly, I press it. Hand the phone back to Juni. Raise my eyes. And smile like a fool, silently admitting to Juni and the others that I was wrong-even though, inside, part of me still insists the demon was real.

"I can't believe you thought Emmet had been killed," Bill-E chuckles. It's the morning after. We're on our way to class.

"I don't want to talk about it," I mutter.

"I just don't see how you could-"

"Enough!" I snap. Then, softly, "Remember what I told you about my parents? How they died?"

"Oh. Yeah." Bill-E's face drops. "Grubbs, I didn't mean-"

"It's OK. Just don't say anything about it. Please? To the others?"

"Of course not," Bill-E smiles. "This stays between us. I'll never breathe a word of it to anyone, especially not Bo Kooniart and her mob. They'd have to torture it out of me."

"Thanks. Because if they knew..."

"Like I said, your secret's safe with me," Bill-E promises. "Dervish won't say anything either, or Juni. Nobody will ever find out. It'll be coolio."

"Look out!" Bo screams as we walk into class. "It's a demon!"

Bo, Abe, Vanalee, Salit-even Kuk and Kik-howl theatrically, then burst out laughing. Miss Jaun blinks at them, astonished. I groan and raise my eyebrows at Bill-E, who can only shrug, bewildered.

"My dad was in the corridor outside your room," Bo says smugly. "He heard you talking. He heard everything." She laughs again and I know I'm in for a long few months.

-- Advertisement --