HERO 41: 2 novels
1. Eye of the Gargoyle
2. The People in the Wall
American publishing and film rights are now available for this book and its companion, HERO 41: THE PEOPLE IN THE WALL
Two novels for boys and girls aged eight and over.
Dax Daley is sent to Scragmoor Prime, an 18th century prison turned into a 21st century 'special school' for
children who have a rare gene which, if cultivated in just
the right way, will give each of them a specific power.
But Dax doesn't have the gene, or any kind of power
- so he thinks. As it turns out he has a greater power
than anyone else at Scragmoor, but that doesn't mean he's safe from the stone gargoyle on the roof or the former prisoners trapped inside a wall of the old ruined chapel.
Sam Penant is a pseudonym.
Here are the first two chapters of
EYE OF THE GARGOYLE
I didn't know it yet, but I was on my way to prison. By bus. My parents had arranged it.
It was a long journey. Felt like days. There'd been other passengers most of the way, but when I woke from my latest doze I found that I was alone. Apart from the driver, that is. I woke this time because the bus had stopped and the driver had spoken. He'd turned in his seat and was looking all along the empty bus, at me, all bundled up at the back.
'I said this is as far as I go, son,' he said.
I looked out of the window. There was nothing there. Just old brown land. No buildings, no trees, nothing. I looked out of other windows. Same.
'As far as you go?'
He beckoned, and I slid out of my seat, lugged my suitcase down the aisle. At the front he pointed through his windscreen at an ancient stone beside the road. There were three words cut into the stone.
TWO MILE POINT
'What does that mean?'
'It means that no one born round here, like I was, goes beyond that sign unless they really have to.'
'Why not? The road does.'
'The road's not gonna get any bad luck, is it?'
'Is that what you think will happen to you if you do?'
'I'm not taking any chances. Out you get.'
'How far is it?' I asked.
'Couple of miles, like the sign says. You'll be there in no time. Luck, kid.'
And then I was outside and the doors were closed and bus was reversing onto the rough ground, and then it was off, and I was alone.
The view wasn't improved by being in it rather than on the other side of a window. It rose and fell and was misty round the edges, and there were all these rocks heaped on top of one another, and there were animals here and there – goats, ponies, a few sheep – standing in small groups like they were chatting about something on telly last night.
But that was it.
I set off along the road, suitcase banging against my leg, switching hands every now and then to give it a chance to thump the other leg. They might at least have given me a case with wheels on, I thought. I meant my parents, of course. The ones behind all this. The day they told me was still vivid in my mind.
'You're sending me to boarding school?' I cried. 'What am I, Harry Potter all of a sudden?'
'If only,' said Dad. 'We could do with a little magic in our lives.'
'Your father's joking,' said Mum. 'This is an opportunity for you, Dax.'
'Opportunity? Being sent away from home is an opportunity? What have I done to deserve it? Is it the window? I told the school governors it was an accident. Even offered to get you to pay for it.'
'It's nothing to do with the window and this isn't a punishment. It's an exciting prospect. You'll be one of Scragmoor Prime's first pupils.'
'Scragmoor Prime? I hate it already, and I don't want to be one of its first pupils. I want to stay where I am. I'm happy there.'
'Happy?' said Dad. 'That's news. All we ever get from you about King's Landing is complaints.'
'Well of course! It's school. Nobody says good things about school. That's no reason to take me out of it and send me... Oh, wait. I get it. You want rid of me. Want me out of the way so you can have a nice quiet Dax-free life. Well, thanks a lot. It's been so good having you two for parents.'
'Don't get upset, darling,' Mum said, reaching for my cheek.
I reared back. 'Don't you darling me, treacherous parent!'
'You should be proud,' said Dad. 'Scragmoor doesn't accept just anyone. They actually asked for you.'
'Asked for me? Asked for me? How do they even know I exist?'
'Ah. Well. Remember last term, having to lick an envelope with your name on it and hand it to your teacher?'
'Sure. I cut my tongue on it. Every kid in the country had to do it – lick an envelope, not cut their tongue. Something to do with supplying a DNA sample for government databanks.'
'It wasn't for databanks, Dax. It was for analysis.'
'They say a new gene's been identified – quite a rare one – and the genetic code of every boy and girl your age has been examined to see which among you possesses it.'
'And I do?'
Mum and Dad looked at one another, then beamed at me with shining eyes.
'You do!' said Mum.
I did not beam back. My eyes did not shine. 'What is this gene?'
'It's a secret,' said Dad.
'You mean you're not going to tell me?'
'I mean top secret. Official. Even we don't know.'
'Oh, wonderful. Terrific. So I've got this rare gene that could make me grow two heads, maybe three, and you're sending me away to give this school with the horrible name a chance to help them develop?'
'Exactly!' said Mum.
'Look,' I said. 'Tell you what,' I said. 'I'll behave in class. I'll work harder. I'll even stop answering my teachers back. How's that?'
Dad sighed. 'Dax, you were born misbehaving, slacking and answering back. It's who you are. Can't see you changing now.'
'I can try,' I said desperately.
'Sorry, too late. We've signed the papers agreeing to you continuing your education at Scragmoor.'
'Whoa,' I said. 'Hang on.' There was something suspicious about this. 'Is there something in it for you?'
'Apart from the money, you mean?' said Dad.
Mum glared at him. 'We weren't going to mention that,' she said.
I stared from one to the other of them, and back again.
'They paid you? You sold me to this school?'
Dad laughed. 'No, no, no. Admittedly, the grant will clear all our debts at a stroke, but we were thinking of you, Dax. You. Your future.'
They had no idea what was in store for me at Scragmoor Prime.
Who could ever have guessed that?
As I walked, the mist rolled closer and closer, like it was closing in on me, and the sky got greyer and greyer, like it couldn't wait for night. The two miles felt like ten.
But then the road dipped suddenly, and from the top of the dip I saw that it ended at the grimmest, darkest, most seriously depressing building ever. A high wall surrounded the building, and there were two gateposts set into it, but no gate. My heart did not lift with joy as I approached the gateless gateposts and saw a sign on one of them.
I lugged my case onto a cobbled courtyard. Half a dozen cars and a black motorbike were parked on the left of the courtyard, under a rusty corrugated roof. On the other side, the right-hand side, there was a long low shed that later turned out to be where horses used to live.
The main building, bang ahead of me, was so old and ragged that it looked like its biggest ambition was to fall down. There were little windows with vertical bars on every level, and my gaze travelled up, window by window, all the way to the roof. On the roof an ancient stone creature – a gargoyle – glared down at me like it didn't like what it saw. I didn't know it, but I was going to get to know that gargoyle far too well for comfort in the days to come.
I crossed the courtyard.
I'd just started up the steps to the front door when a window opened a little way along and a girl with red hair leaned out.
'Another one?' she said.
I paused, mid-step. 'Another what?'
'Student. I thought they'd all arrived.'
With that she ducked back inside and slammed the window.
The door at the top of the steps was old and black and covered in iron studs. There was also a big iron knocker. I gripped the knocker.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
I let go of the knocker, and waited.
I gripped it again.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
I waited again.
Nothing happened a second time.
I reached for the knocker once more, but as I did so the door jumped back to reveal a very tall thin man with little round glasses on the end of his nose and hair like a bale of hay caught in a high wind.
'Dax Daley,' I said.
'What?' he said.
'Dax Daley. My name. I've been told to report here.'
'Well, this is the school, isn't it?'
'It is, yes.'
'Right. I'm one of the students. Or will be once I unpack.'
'I don't think you are,' he said.
'Don't think I'm what?'
'One of the students. We have a forty-student intake and all forty have checked in.'
'You must have miscounted,' I said.
He frowned. 'Miscounted?'
'Students. If forty are expected you've overcounted by one.'
'We're a school,' he said. 'Counting is one of those little things we do. The fortunate forty are having their welcome dinner as we speak. I was grabbing a snack myself before I was so rowdily interrupted.'
I rummaged in my pockets for the bit of paper that told me where to come, and handed it over. The tall man peered at it like it had been dipped in something he was allergic to. Then he thrust it back at me.
'Clearly an error,' he said. 'There's no provision for a forty-first student.'
'So where does that leave me?' I asked.
'It leaves you right there on the step. Which I suggest you get off in order to go back where you came from.'
He started to close the door, but I jammed my foot in the gap. Bad move, because it didn't stop him trying to close it.
'Ow, that hurts!' I yelled.
'It will hurt less if you keep your feet out there where they belong,' he said. But he eased back on the door.
'Now let's get this straight,' I said, hopping about on the foot he hadn't squashed. 'You're saying that I can't come in, can't go to this school, and that I've got to limp back across the moor, where I'll probably get lost, and never be seen again?'
'A fair summation,' he said. 'It'll be dark soon and the fog's coming in. We get terrible fogs here. I'm told that a number of folk have gone missing over the years on Scrag Moor. We had proof of that just last week actually. A man was found down a crevasse, neck broken from the fall, no ID, could have been anyone.'
'Thanks for sharing that,' I said, turning to go.
I turned back. 'What?'
'I can't watch you walk away.'
'So close your eyes,' I said.
'You'd better come in. You'll have to stay the night.'
I eyed him suspiciously. 'Why the change of heart?'
One of his lofty shoulders shrugged. 'I'm not a monster.'
'If you say so. So you'll give me a bed for the night?'
'A bed? We only have forty. A bit of floor maybe. Have you eaten?'
'Not lately. Scoffed my last energy bar two hours ago.'
'Well, I'll see if I can ferret out a crust in the kitchen.'
'Ooh, a floor and a crust. Really fallen on my feet here, haven't I?'
He stepped back, widening the door gap.
'What are you anyway?' I asked as I lugged my case over the unwelcome mat. 'The butler? Janitor? A stand-up who's forgotten his jokes?'
'Withering? Why, what's wrong with you?'
'Doctor Withering, head of Scragmoor Prime.'
'Oh. Right. Thrilled to meet you, Doc.'
'Doctor,' he said firmly.
He slammed the door, bolted it, and I looked around at the gloomiest interior I ever saw off a screen. The lights were so dim they might have been candles in disguise.
I took my phone out. 'I better call my folks. Tell 'em I'm not stopping.'
He shook his head. 'Sorry, that won't be possible. No signal.'
'No signal? No phone signal anywhere in the building?'
'No coverage for twenty miles around, and just one specially installed hot spot – in there.' He pointed to a door on the left as you came in. 'We call it the Com Centre, but its use is restricted to Saturdays. That one day of the week aside, no calls, texts, tweets or anything else of the ilk are permitted. We also don't allow the use of communication devices within Scragmoor.'
'But that's crazy.'
'It's the way things are here.'
'You're not keen on your students talking to one another, is that it?'
'They have voices for that. Old-fashioned, I know, but there you go.'
I pocketed my phone. 'OK. But as I'm not going to be one of the lucky forty I have to call my parents. So take me to a landline. You must have one of those.'
'We do,' he said, 'and you may use it just before I shut the door on you in the morning, never to meet again.'
'Well, that's the day's highlight taken care of,' I said. I looked around me. 'I was told this was a new school.'
'It's very new. Tomorrow is Day One. It's just the building that's old.'
'Old? It's prehistoric. It looks like an ancient prison.'
'Which is exactly what it was, originally.'
'A prison? You're kidding me.'
'Not at all. Convicted felons and miscreants were sent to Scragmoor Jail for almost two hundred years.'
'Some sentence,' I said.
'Many were confined for life, others stayed merely for days before...' He stopped. Smiled a wonky yellow smile. 'Let's just say that on certain nights, so it's said, screams can still be heard echoing through the cells.'
'There are still cells here?'
'Oh yes. And just as well too. The students have to sleep somewhere.'
'They sleep in the cells?'
'We call them bedcells. Sounds cosier. Now let's see if we can locate that crust.'
He spun on a heel and walked off. I went after him.
The first door we passed had 'Matron' on it. The next had 'Dr Withering'. Then there was a dark stairwell with a rope across it and an UNSAFE ENTRY FORBIDDEN sign.
We'd just passed the stairwell when the building exploded.
It didn't really explode, but it was that kind of shock, like a big all-controlling switch had been pulled, because all of a sudden the lights grew as bright as the most brilliant sunshine and every alarm for miles went off at once. I screwed up my dazzled eyes, clapped my hands over my earholes, sagged against the wall, and, through my slitted lids, saw Withering's mouth flapping.
I uncovered my ears. 'What?' I shouted.
'Power surge!' he shouted back. But he was laughing. 'They were right! Bring 'em together and... ha-ha-ha-ha! Kitchen's down there! I'll be back!'
And he charged off, into the deafening sound, the blinding light.
I stayed where I was, cowering against the wall, till the alarms stopped just as suddenly as they'd started and the lights dimmed. With the bulbs back to candle-dull and the building as silent as a tomb once more I went on to the kitchen, where I found something to eat. Not just a crust. There was much more than a crust. I fed my face like I hadn't eaten for months.
NATURALLY, THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING FOR DAX.
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