I’m not feeling good. My legs ache. My back aches. My brain aches. All of me is wrecked.
Aisling says I’m getting old. Behind her smiles, though, her concern is evident. Even Shinytop sounded worried when I mentioned it. We were in the kitchen, and he got really excited when I told him I also felt like I was being followed by a shadow, a thing I only ever saw out of the corner of my eye, watching me from a rooftop, or an alley, or jigging through the crowded streets.
I’d first noticed it yesterday. And when we went to the Markets’ Fields this morning it had started following me the moment we left the compound.
‘Followed,’ Shinytop said. ‘Nothing good ever follows anyone. Thieves, beggars, ne’er-do- wells or spies.’
‘Fans,’ Aisling said. She tried to laugh. But her face looked sterner that Ganhook’s on a frosty morning.
‘At least you spotted it,’ Shinytop said. ‘Do you see this invisible thing everywhere?’
‘Only outside the compound.’
‘Maybe something wants to get into the compound,’ he replied in a voice I didn’t like. He was starting to sound like a doctor, and it didn’t suit him.
‘I never see it,’ Aisling said.
‘I’m not a liar!’ I snapped, immediately regretting being so rude. ‘Sorry. I’m . . .’
‘Worried. I understand. I’d be worried too.’
‘So would I,’ Shinytop said. ‘Do you feel anything when you spot it?’
‘An itch. Inside my skull.’
‘Tell Ganhook,’ Shinytop said.
I shook my head. We’d a rare day off coming up. Aisling and I planned to catch fogfish in Grey Lake. If Ganhook suspected something was up, he might well confine me to the compound.
Shinytop sighed. ‘Then go to Gutwretch Street. Find a doctor.’
After my experience with the crazy dentist, I’d rather have battled my way back home through the gateway than return to Gutwretch Street. ‘No way.’
‘Then you must tell Ganhook.’
Deep down, I knew he was right. But maybe I didn’t have to say anything just yet.
Then he said, ‘Some sickness might be trying to get into.’
As if something was already inside me, I felt a tug in my gut. I buckled over. Aisling steadied me, and I sucked in a deep breath. I started to tremble. Only it didn’t feel like fear or cold. It felt like something was rattling me, buffeting me about from the inside. ‘What could get into me?’ I gasped.
‘Boneman,’ Shinytop whispered.
‘What?’ Aisling said.
‘Nothing. Forget it. Tell Ganhook.’
Seeing how worried I was getting, Aisling said, ‘Maybe you just need to lie down for a while.’
I nodded. I wasn’t really tired. But I didn’t want to listen to Shinytop anymore, so I didn’t complain when Aisling steered me to the door.
Then, as I was pulling the door behind me, I heard Shinytop telling Sparks, ‘Sometimes, I’m glad I’m a stick.’
And something about the way he said that so casually, chilled me.
Ganhook turned up at my room half an hour later. I knew by the look in his eyes that he knew something was wrong with me. Without warning, he laid a little black beetle onto my hand. I recognised the beetle by the silver dot on its back. A bloodsucking wentin, notoriously hard to prise free once they sink their fangs into you. But the instant it bit me, it recoiled. Its wings sprouted. It flew out the door, leaving me staring after it, my heart thumping.
Ganhook sighed. ‘So, it’s true. You need to be quarantined.’