Authors: Sally Nicholls
HOME NUMBER 12
ANNABEL AND GRAHAM
Before I moved in with Liz, I lived with Annabel and Graham. They were my second go at a forever family. They came to my foster home and took me to the funfair. Annabel had flat yellow hair and a sort of screwed-in face. Graham had round glasses and a bald spot and a nervous laugh, which he brought out whenever he didn't know what to say.
“Can I go on the dodgems?” I said, the minute we got into the car.
“Course you can,” said Graham, giving me a big gooey smile. He let me drive the dodgem, and I bashed it into all the other cars on the floor. It was brilliant.
“Again!” I said, the moment the car stopped moving.
“Don't you want to go on the other rides?” said Graham, but I shook my head as fast as I could.
“I want to go on the dodgems! I've never been to the fair before, and I always wanted to go, and I had a book with pictures in it, and I always thought, if I had a mummy and daddy, they would take me on the dodgems.
I thought that was going a bit far, and even Dopey Graham would see I was making it up. I'd been to the fair plenty of times with my old mummy and daddy, and even my foster parents had taken me once. But Dopey Graham believed every word.
“WellÂ .Â .Â . all right then,” he said, grinning like a loon.
We went on the dodgems again, and again, and I could see he wasn't enjoying it quite as much this time.
“How about we go on the merry-go-round?” he said.
“OK.Â .Â .” I pulled my saddest face.
“What is it?” he said. “What's the matter?”
“I thought it was my day,” I said. I squirmed like I was really shy. “To do whatever I wanted.”
“Sweetheart, of course it is!” said Graham. He looked horrified.
“Good,” I said. “I want to go on the dodgems!”
In the end, we went on the dodgems eleven times in a row. I only let him stop when he promised to buy me a candyfloss
a bag of popcorn
a packet of crisps. I totally ignored Grumpy Annabel. She looked right peeved off.
“I love you, Daddy!” I told Dopey Graham, and he gave me this goofy grin and bought me a chocolate Ã©clair.
I was sick in the car on the way home, but I didn't care. I made sure I threw up all over Grumpy Annabel. I knew this family wasn't going to be any trouble.
I was going to be boss.
I was boss right from the first day I moved in. I was pretty smallÂ â I was only seven, and I was the littlest in my classÂ â and I could tell Dopey Graham thought I was sweet.
“Isn't she adorable?” he used to say. I'd run to the door as he came home from work, and give him my biggest hug.
“I love you, Daddy!” I'd say, and he'd give me a Kinder Egg, or a bag of sweets, or a comic.
I never had so much to eat as I did when I lived with Graham and Annabel. My old foster mother, Lynne, told them I had problems with food.
“It's a fairly common side-effect of early neglect,” she said, when she thought I wasn't listening. “You just need to make sure she has clear boundaries.”
“Poor little thing,” said Graham. “No wonder she's worried about food if she didn't have enough to eat. Surely when she finds out we're going to feed her, she'll be fine.”
The first few weeks I lived with them, they used to let me eat whatever I wanted. I would take food and hide it under my bed, so I wouldn't go hungry. They told me it was my house now, and I could help myself. The first night I was there, I didn't eat anything Grumpy Annabel cooked, but after they'd gone to bed I ate six packets of crisps, a whole packet of chocolate biscuits, five mini pork pies, three leftover sausages and most of a jar of chocolate spread. Then I went upstairs and was sick in Grumpy Annabel's knicker drawer. She went bright pink when she found out, so I started to cry and said my tummy hurt.
“Poor baby! Of course it does!” said Dopey Graham.
“I want to go home!” I said.
“Of course you do,” said Dopey Graham. He lifted me on to his knee. I took the chance to be sick again on his pyjamas.
After that, Grumpy Annabel said I couldn't just take food any time I wanted.
“But you promised!” I wailed. “You promised, and now you've lied to me just like everybody else!”
“Oh, baby,” said Dopey Graham. He gave me a hug, and I put my arms around his neck and squeezed him so tight he nearly choked. “Of course you can go into the kitchen. We just don't want you to make yourself poorly again.”
“Butâ” said Grumpy Annabel. I could tell she hadn't forgotten her sicky knickers. “We can't just let her eat whatever she wants!”
“She won't,” said Dopey Graham. “Will you, baby?”
I hiccuped, and glanced at Grumpy Annabel triumphantly.
“No, Daddy,” I said.
But I did.
Grumpy Annabel stopped buying sweets, in the hope that that would stop me. It didn't. The day she stopped getting sweets, I ate twelve jam sandwiches, and none of the roast chicken she'd spent all morning cooking.
Grumpy Annabel and Dopey Graham had a huge fight about it.
,” Annabel said. “She's doing it to get at me.”
“Oh, love,” said Graham. “She's only little! You're making her sound like a criminal mastermind. What sort of child makes herself ill just to get at her parents?”
“This one does,” said Grumpy Annabel. “You don't know her like I do. She's all sweetness and light around you. She hates me.”
“She doesn't hate you,” said Dopey Graham. There was a pause, while I guessed he must be snuggling her. They were like big teddy bearsÂ â they snuggled all the time. “I know it's hard,” he said. “I know you're tired. But she'll get over this, when she realizes she's not going to starve.”
“I wonder if Lynne might have been right.Â .Â .” said Annabel.
“Lynne also said we have to let her see she can trust us,” said Graham. “I don't want to break a promise to a child. Especially not this one.”
But even Dopey Graham realized he had to do something. Their solution was Olivia's Special Food Box. Annabel would fill it with Healthy Food like muesli bars and bread sticks, and if I was hungry, I was supposed to eat something from there.
“And if I eat your food.Â .Â .?” I said.
“Then you have to have a time out,” said Grumpy Annabel.
Time outs were how you got punished in the Dopey house. If you were bad, you had to sit on the sofa for seven minutes and not talk. It was a stupid idea though, because Annabel could never make me do it.
The first afternoon I wasn't supposed to steal from the kitchen, I took one of Grumpy Annabel's chocolate muffins from the fridge. I picked a muffin, because she'd bought three of them, so it was really obvious when one of them was gone. I left the wrapper out on the table just to make sure.
I was upstairs drawing pictures on Annabel's bedroom wall when she found out. I could hear her feet going into the kitchen. Then there was this long pause. I could hear her being frightened, which made me giggle. I loved that Grumpy Annabel was about five times as old as me, and I made her frightened.
She came upstairs, saw me drawing on her wall, and took a deep breath.
“Olivia, did you eat this?” she said, holding out the muffin wrapper.
I shook my head. “Uh-uh.”
I drew a muffin on the wall.
“Olivia! Stop that!” She grabbed the marker pen from my hand. I squealed.
“I was playing with that!”
“Olivia, listen to me! Did you eat the muffin?”
What sort of idiot was she? Of course I ate the muffin. Who else could have done?
“Daddy did it.”
“Daddy's at work,” said Annabel. She grabbed my arm. “You need a time out. Seven minutes for the muffin, and seven minutes for lying to me.”
And nothing for drawing on the wall? Cool. But she still needed to learn that she couldn't boss me.
!” I said. And I spat in her face.
Grumpy Annabel's eyes narrowed. She picked me up. I shrieked and started kicking.
“You're hurting! You're hurting!”
Grumpy Annabel started dragging me out of the room. I grabbed on to the door frame with both hands.
She reached out a hand to peel my fists away, leaving one arm around my waist. I lunged forward and bit through her sleeve, hard enough to draw blood. She let go. I ran back into her bedroom and slammed the door. Annabel started pushing against it and I pushed back, feet jammed against the chest of drawers.
“You can't make me!” I yelled. I knew that would make her angry, and it did. She shoved the door, hard. I laughed at her.
“You're bigger than me, and you still can't make me do anything!”
Grumpy Annabel pushed the door hard enough to get inside. I scrambled to my feet and ran over to the dressing-table. I started picking up her ornaments and throwing them on to the floor, where they smashed into a million pieces. She always got mad when I broke her things.
the boss!” I yelled.
“Olivia!” said Grumpy Annabel. “Olivia, please. Stop it!” She was nearly crying. “Olivia, that belonged to my granny. Pleaseâ”
I lifted the ornamentÂ â a stupid lady in a big skirtÂ â over my head. I looked her straight in the eye and I laughed at her. Then I threw the lady down on to their stupid wooden floor.
Grumpy Annabel lost it. She grabbed my arm and dragged me into my room.
“You want to know what it's like when someone breaks something you love?” she said. “You want to know what that feels like?” She snatched the doll that my mum gave me, the last time I saw her. I shrieked, but she held it high over her head. “You see this doll?” she said. “This doll is going in the bin. I mean it, Olivia. You can't treat other people's things like that.”
I spat in her eye.
“You won't take my dolly from me,” I said. “Stupid bitch.”
And I started pulling the things that they'd bought me from the cupboardÂ â the board games, and the cuddly toys, and the Barbie dollsÂ â and tearing them to bits.
I was still in my room when Dopey Graham came home. I heard him say, “W
” and Annabel crying.
“But what about time outs?” he said.
After a while, I heard his footsteps clumping upstairs. I climbed into bed and pulled the duvet over my head. He came into the room and sat down beside me.
“You've been being naughty, princess,” he said. I pulled the duvet down.
“Mummy took my dolly,” I said. “The one my real mum gave me. She said I couldn't have it any more.”
“I know, sweetheart,” said Dopey Graham. “But you were very naughty, weren't you? You shouldn't have broken Mummy's lady.”
I looked away. “I was scared,” I said. “I thought she was going to hit me, like my mummy used to.”
“Oh, baby,” said Dopey Graham. He put his arm around me. “No one's going to hit you in this house.”
“Mummy took my dolly,” I whispered.
“I know, princess,” said Graham. “But you have to do what Mummy tells you. What did she want you to do?”
“Have a time out.”
“Come on, then,” said Dopey Graham. He led me downstairs and sat me on the sofa. “Seven minutes,” he said, and he kissed me on the top of my head.
I sat perfectly still with my toes pointed downwards and my hands neatly folded in my lap. I pulled my skirt out so the ballerina ruffles flowed down around me. I looked like a little girl ornament from Grumpy Annabel's dressing-table.
“Well done, princess!” said Dopey Graham, after six and a half minutes exactly. “Now come and say sorry to Mummy.”
Grumpy Annabel was sitting in the kitchen with tearmarks on her face and a big glass of wine.
I did that
, I thought.
“What do you say?” said Dopey Graham.
“Sorry, Mummy,” I whispered.
“Good girl,” said Dopey Graham. He reached under the table and brought out my dolly. “There you go! No one's
going to take her away again. I promise.”
I wrapped my arms around the doll and buried my face in her hair. She smelled of old tea bags and rotten vegetables. She smelled of the rubbish bin.
“Thank you, Daddy,” I said, and I shot Grumpy Annabel a triumphant look. Who's the boss now?
ZOMBIE KILLING SPREES
I liked Harriet. It took me a while to realize why I liked her so much. I think it was because she reminded me of living with my sister Hayley. Harriet was eight, which was nearly as old as Hayley. Hayley was nine. That was the only thing similar about them, though. Hayley had yellow hair and blue eyes, and she didn't like it when I didn't do what I was told, which was always. She liked Polly Pocket and she had a pink T-shirt and jeans with a heart on the pocket. Actually, I didn't know very much about Hayley. I'd only seen her twice since she was five. When she was five, I was her favourite person in the world, but she probably liked her mum and dad better now.
Harriet liked me, though. Harriet was great. She was little and dark-haired, and she was way easy to wind up, because she took everything dead seriously. Her best thing was pretending and dress-up. She had a whole box of dress-up toys, and as soon as she came home from school she would run and put on some fairy wings, or a crown, or a pirate costume. She never cared how stupid she looked.
After pretending, Harriet liked drawing best. She looked all little and sweet, but she wasn't. She liked really gruesome stories about ghosts and flesh-eating insects and zombies. The more blood, the better. Her pictures were the same. She'd draw puppies and kittens and bunnies with eyeballs falling out and blood dripping down their cheeks.
“Well, I suppose it's creative,” said Jim, when Harriet presented him with one of her pictures. “But don't show it to Social Services, will you?”
I think Jim was a bit worried when I came about whether I'd beat Harriet up, but I never did. I liked Harriet. I liked playing little-kid games. I liked playing with the dolls' house, pulling all the furniture out and arranging it exactly right in all the rooms. Harriet's dolls' house was big and square. Her dad had made it for her. Sometimes I liked to put everything in perfectly, and sometimes I liked to turn it all upside down, chuck the parents' bed out into the garden, fill their room with all the kids' toys and put the mum in the toilet.
I played with Harriet quite a lot. She always let me be boss. It was like having a small, wriggly slave in fairy wings. I played with Daniel too, but if Daniel disagreed with me he wouldn't shut up about it, and he never did what he was told like Harriet did.
Being bigger than Harriet meant it was my job to look after her. Normally it was other people's job to look after me, and normally they were rubbish at it. I was great at looking after Harriet. I don't think she was always very happy. She was happy at home, but I don't think she liked school very much. She had these two best friends, who were sort of best friends with each other really and let her tag along when it suited them, and then told her to get lost when it didn't. Whenever they had to pick partners or someone to sit next to, they picked each other, and they had all these secrets and jokes they didn't let Harriet in on.
“Why d'you hang around with those losers?” I said, and she looked sort of unhappy and mumbled,
They're my friends
One day, when I'd been living with Jim for about two months, I was playing football at lunchtime, and I saw Harriet and these two girls. They had one of Harriet's shoes, and they were playing Piggy-in-the-middle with it, chucking it to each other while Harriet ran between them going, “That's mine! Give it back!”
The girls were laughing like it was a game, but Harriet was almost crying. The tarmac was all cold and wet and covered in mud. Piggy-in-the-middle is a pretty rubbish game for piggy, and Harriet was hopping about on one foot, trying not to get her sock wet, so you could see she was probably never going to get the shoe back anyway.
No one else seemed to care. Not the teachers, not anyone. I marched over to the biggest kid, and yanked the shoe out of her hands.
“That's Harriet's!” I said. “Why didn't you give it back when she asked you to?”
“It's only a game!” the kid said, all innocent. “We're just having some fun!”
“It wasn't fun for
,” I said. I gave Harriet her shoe. “She's supposed to be your friend!”
The girl looked kind of embarrassed and defensive at the same time. If someone had told me off like that, I'd have told them to butt out, but this kid was only about eight.
“It's only a game.Â .Â .” she said again, but she sounded a bit doubtful.
“You were being horrible,” I told her. “Be nice to Harriet. Or else!”
After that, I used to keep an eye out for Harriet at school. If the other girls were being mean to her, I'd go over and make sure they stopped. Sometimes Harriet would run and find me at breaktime.
“Olivia! Come and play!” she'd say, and sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn't. It all depended how I felt.
It was Harriet who told me about Amelia Dyer's ghost. I still didn't like the picture of Amelia on the staircase
I thought about breaking her, or hiding her, but the wall looked even creepier when I took the picture down. Like
she was still there somehow, only now I didn't know where she was. I worried she was maybe wandering around the house, like that time I heard footsteps on the stairs with no one in them, and maybe that was her, haunting me. I put it back, quick.
“She's one creepy lady,” I told Daniel and Harriet.
“She haunts the house,” said Harriet. “She
people,” said Daniel uneasily. “NotÂ .Â .Â . exactly.”
“How could a ghost kill someone?” I said. “Ghosts just walk through stuff. They couldn't even pick a knife up.”
“Stupid! She doesn't
people,” said Harriet. “She scares them so hard they just
. And then she
them and makes them do what she wants. They go on
Harriet said “rampages” in the same voice other little kids use to say “ice cream” or “Disneyland”. Violet used to go on rampages. She never killed anyone, at least not while I lived with her, but it wasn't much like Disneyland.
“How can she possess you after you're dead?” I said. “Does she turn people into zombies? Wouldn't people have noticed?”
“Don't count on it,” said Grace, from the sofa, where she was curled up feeding Maisy.
Daniel sighed. “There weren't any zombies, and there weren't any rampages,” he said. “It's justÂ .Â .Â . this is an unlucky house, that's all. There are lots of stories about Amelia Dyer haunting it. People say you can hear babies crying, and there's this kid as wellÂ â a little girl she's supposed to have killed. People heard her running down the corridors. And there's one woman who used to live here, who killed herself. And before she died she kept saying Amelia Dyer was talking to her, telling her to kill her husband and her little boy. She turned on the gas in the oven and tried to poison everyone in the house, but her husband woke up and turned it off, so she was the only one who died. Dad says she wasn't possessed, though. She was just sad. Or mad. Or both.”
“You don't know that,” said Harriet. “Amelia could have possessed her! Anyway, it's not just her, there's another story too.”
“Yes.Â .Â .” said Daniel. “But the other story is even more stupid. There's supposed to be this girl who lived here years and years ago. She was a servant, and she was in love with one of the boys who worked on the farm, and he got her pregnant. She asked him to marry her, but he wouldn't, so she had the baby, and then she had to leave her job. She didn't have anywhere to live, so she had to sleep under hedges, and the baby was cold and sick and she couldn't look after it. So she strangled the baby and left it on the doorstep with a note, to shame the boy. But Amelia didn't kill her. She got hanged for baby murder. It wasn't anything to do with being possessed. People just say that because it's a good story.”
have been possessed,” said Harriet. “And, anyway, that's three murderers in one houseÂ â how many houses have
murderers in them?”
“It's an old house,” said Daniel. “And the suicide lady wasn't a murderer, 'cause her husband stopped her. And we don't even know the other story's true. It's just something the guy who runs the pub told us. He also said the pub's haunted by a mad highwayman who shoots you if you go to the loo without buying a drink. I think he just made it up.”
“I bet he didn't,” said Harriet. “I bet it's true!”
” I said. “Ghosts aren't real. They
But after Harriet and Daniel told me about Amelia's ghost, I started to notice even more creepy things which didn't make any sense. I am a very noticing sort of person. I'd been living in Jim's house for less than a month, but I could always tell when Grace was in a bad mood or just an at-a-good-bit-in-my-book mood from the way her shoulders hunched. I could always tell whether Zig-Zag was really asleep or just pretending. Noticing things is another one of my superpowers. It's very useful when you're trying to wind someone up to know whether they care more about how fat they are, or how good a mother, or how late they're going to be for work, or whatever.
“You don't have to watch us all the time, Olivia,” Dopey Graham used to say. “You're safe here! Nobody's going to hurt you.” But then he dumped me with Liz and never even came to visit, so that shows how much I could trust
. I always watched everyone, always. I never felt completely safe, ever.
That next month, I heard three babies crying who
weren't Maisy. The first time, Maisy was asleep. The second, she and Grace weren't even
in the house
. And the third time, Harriet and I were
in the same room
as her, building a tower out of bricks for her to knock over. She was laughing, and another baby was crying, somewhere in the house. I made Harriet stop and listen, but she couldn't hear anything. I wasn't that surprised. Even with supersonic hearing I had to strain to catch it.
It wasn't just babies either. I was in my room one evening, amusing myself by drawing rude pictures of Jim on my walls, when I heard this noise. It sounded like someone running down the corridor outside. Someone small, like a kid, but I could tell just from the sound of the feet that it wasn't Daniel or Harriet. I was so surprised that I stopped drawing and waited. After about for ever, the footsteps came back. They ran past my door and then stopped. They didn't go down the stairs, or into one of the rooms. They just stopped.
I opened my door and looked out. No one was there. I looked left, then right, and then I heard them again: footsteps, running right past me with no feet in them, no person running, no one there at all.
A real, proper ghost. Definitely.
I wasn't afraid. I don't know why, I ought to have been. Mostly I was curious. I stood there in the doorway for ages, waiting, but whatever it was didn't come back. So I shut the door and went back inside, to draw black footprints all around the windowpanes.