I Dare You

©Molly Looby Shortlisted for the Young Sony Movellist of the Year Competition. NaNoWriMo'12 Winner! . . .
Havengore was the beginning and the end of the entire universe. Yeah, like I could believe that. Havengore is my world surrounded by a single boundary wall. It's been there for generations, but don't ask us why, no one seems to know. There must be something out there though right? There must be a reason for it, I mean, it wouldn't just be there . . . would it? Why? That was what I wanted to know. Just that: why? You’d think I’d be granted that. It was the only question in the universe I needed to be answered, but no. No one knew.



Why?  That was what I wanted to know.  Just that:  why?  You’d think I’d be granted that.  It was the only question in the universe I needed to be answered, but no.  No one knew.  That was the extent of it.

I fidgeted so that I was sitting cross-legged, elbows on knees, face resting on hands, and not leaning my back on the convenient tree as I stared out there like I had been since . . . whenever it was that I came out here.  All I knew was that it hadn’t been dark when I’d left, but it was now.  I turned my head back and looked upon the lights of Havengore.  I could see the lights of my borough, South Edwards, and our neighbouring boroughs.  I could just about make out the glow of Inner Terriford.  I shut my eyes and imagined the rush of the city far enough away from my reach that I could pretend it didn’t exist.  I wondered if they could do that with the wall, pretend it didn’t exist, pretend there wasn’t a boundary surrounding the whole of Havengore.  Living as close to the boundary as we did, we were as far away from the city as could be, which was just fine by me.

I turned my head back to stare out into the nothingness beyond the wall.  There were no lights there, just nothing, even under the moonlight.  As the sun descended, the outside world disappeared until I could only see a few meters from the base of the wall.  A chill whipped my hair into my eyes and I shivered from the cold, wrapping my arms around myself and pulling my knees up to my chin.

What was out there?  Was there anything but nothingness?  What were we being protected from?  I’d sat up here for enough hours of my life to know that there was nothing as far as the eye could see.  So were we keeping something out?  Or were we being kept in?  Those were the questions of my life.  I pondered them here from atop the wall so often it was almost becoming routine.  But the most important was always: why?

I stared at the view a little while longer until the stone under my jeans felt damp with cold and I couldn’t feel my bum.  I pushed myself up, scraping my hand across the stone as I did so.  “Shit,” I whispered to myself as I squeezed my palm with my other hand.  I’d succeeded in drawing blood.  “Excellent.”

 I walked backwards and forwards for a few minutes, stretching my legs, before brushing away the dirt from my hands, throwing myself off the wall, grabbing the branch growing over the top of the wall, and swinging to the floor.  I landed in a crouch, hand out to support me.  I listened out for any company before sneaking through the gap in the ageing mesh fence a few meters away from the wall.  And from there, slipped back onto the dim streets of South Edwards, Havengore, unnoticed – as always.

As I walked, I observed the damage done to my hand, which had stopped bleeding but had made its obvious mark on my skin.  I just hoped no one would question that I’d just fallen over or something.  I shoved my hand in my pocket.  One of these days I was really going to hurt myself and be unable to explain myself out of it.  I could feel it coming.  One day it was going to happen, it was bound to.

I didn’t meet anyone’s eye as I ducked and weaved through the twisted streets and accompanying shortcuts.  I knew the backstreets of South Edwards as well as I knew . . .  well, the main streets.  We all did.  Most people from Inner and Outer Terriford moved to one of the wall bordering boroughs to start a family and live out the autumn and winter of their lives.  As a daughter of one of those families, I knew my way around the place as though I’d designed it myself.  Most of the people from the wall bordering boroughs grew up and moved to the city, it was already happening to older siblings of people in my year.  That was how life was in Havengore.  Very few people stayed put.  My life plan consisted of wanting to be different.

I looked up at the stars and the moon above me.  I couldn’t be without that clear sky.  As I returned to looking in front of me, I caught sight of the wall in the distance.  It wasn’t the spot where I sat of course, this was part of the wall in another borough, but wherever you were in South Edwards – unless you were facing the city – you could see the giant of the boundary glaring at you.  Where others felt intimidated and wanted to move away where they couldn’t see it, I felt dared.  I dare you, Leanne, it called to me.  Come and get me.  How could I give up that thrill?  How could I give up the feeling of staring out into the great, vast nothing and feeling so small in the huge universe?  It’s easier to cope when you think you mean nothing, nothing you do matters and that the world will turn without you.  Well, for me it was.  The silence, I needed that, without it I’d go crazy.

Something broke my silence as I heard movement behind me, a rustling of a tree.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my whole body tensed.  I spun round and scanned the area, coming up blank.  The street was empty and the only sound was the buzz of the light bulb above me.  I listened hard for something else, anything else.  It was the chuckling that gave him away.

I relaxed and rolled my eyes, shaking my head as I crossed my arms and walked to the base of the tree.  “You know what gave you away, besides the giggling of course?”

“Hey,” he jumped down from where he was hiding.  “I don’t giggle, okay?  Giggling is not a manly noise.”

“And you’re just the height of masculinity?”

“Shut up,” he punched me on the arm.

“Alright, you made a noise, whatever you wanna call it.”

“I just couldn’t hold it in.  You looked so serious.  You’re displaying some very guilty behaviours, Lea.  You’re lucky Maisie wasn’t watching you.”

Anyway,” I continued, moving focus away from me.  “When choosing a place to hide, don’t choose the tree outside your own house.”

“Foiled again.”

“What the hell were you doing anyway?”

“Wasn’t it obvious?”

“Clearly not.”

“I was watching you.”

“Well that much I understood, I meant why were you up there in the first place?”

“No Lea, that was what I was doing up there.  I was watching you.  I can see your house from up there.  I wanted to know where you snuck off to.”  He laughed at my silence and ruffled my hair.  “You’re not as secretive as you think you are.”

“How do you know I sneak off somewhere?”

“You’re forgetting that I know you better than anyone, Lea Anderson.”

“In that case why didn’t you just ask me?”

“Because I know you.  You would’ve made up some bull-shit.  And don’t deny that you wouldn’t.”

I shut my mouth, a smirk turning up the corners.

“But I must admit, I knew you were a little rebel, but I didn’t know you were capable of cl–”

I covered his mouth with my hand.  “Shut up!”  I hissed.  “Don’t you say a word.  You hear me?  Not a single word – to anyone.  Not even Maisie.”

He held his hands up in surrender.  “Bloody hell, Lea.  Alright, alright.  Not a word.”

“You swear?”

“I swear.  Now get lost before your parents freak.”

“You obviously don’t realise just how much I’m out the house.  They stopped worrying months ago.”

“Linc!”  We heard his mum call from the living room window.  “Get inside!  What’re you doing?  It’s dark out!”

“Lucky for some, Lea,” he rolled his eyes.  “I have Miss Panicker in there.”

“I was under the impression that was Maisie.”

“Oh god, her too.  We just can’t escape!”

“You’re telling me.”

He sighed.  “I guess I have to go in now.”

“Well there’s nothing out here for you.  I’m sodding off now.”

“Fine then, I’ll go.  See you tomorrow.”  He pulled me into a hug.

“Yeah, great.  School, yippee.”

“My thoughts exactly,” he groaned before disappearing into the house.

I took a little detour before I turned in the direction of home.  I had a score to settle with a certain someone.  I walked up the drive, took a deep breath, and started hammering on the front door.  I saw the flicker of a curtain in my peripheral vision.

“Harrison!”  I screamed.  “Get the hell out here now!”

He flung open the door and threw his arms out wide.  “I have neighbours you know.  You’re lucky my parents aren’t home.  What the hell is going on with you?”

I pushed my way past him into the hall and slammed the front door.  I grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him up the stairs and into his bedroom where I shut the door and the windows.

“Leanne, what the hell?”

“Shh,” I hissed, listening out for anyone, or thing, that might be listening.

“There’s nothing in here, Lea, trust me.”

“Did you tell Linc?”

I saw his hands ball up into fists and relax again – he did that when he was under pressure.  “No.”

“Don’t lie to me, Harrison.”

“I swear, I never said a word to him.”

“How come he was watching me tonight then?  He said he knew I snuck off somewhere.  How did he know that?”

He shrugged.  “It’s nothing to do with me.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, honest.”

“Well how else could he know that?  I’ve never mentioned it.”

“He can just read you, Lea.”

“I won’t believe he can read me that well.  What did you say to him?”


“Harrison, the reason I told you was because I thought you’d understand.  Linc and Maisie would never understand it.  I thought at least you could keep your mouth shut.”

“I did.  It’s been shut!   I haven’t said a damn word!”

“Well how does he know!”

“How the hell should I know!  I wouldn’t tell a soul, Lea!  I promise!  I didn’t breathe a word.”

I dropped down onto his bed and put my head in my hands.  “How does he know?  No one should know anything.”  I huffed and sat up again.

“Maybe you’re spending too much time on the wall.”

“Please don’t say that.”

“Why not?  I’m trying to help you, as the only person you trusted with this information.”

“Well not anymore.”

“Well I was.”

“Don’t tell me I’m spending too much time on the wall.  I’d go insane if I couldn’t sit up there.”

“I’m worried you’re going insane anyway.”

“Thanks, your confidence has made me feel so much better.  That’s just what I needed.”  I stood up to pace.  I had to move to shift this anxiety.  “You don’t understand how I feel up there.  I need to sit and ponder the universe.  I need to sit up there and remind myself we’re trapped behind the boundary for no reason at all.  I need to remember we’re all controlled by society and we’re not our own people.  I need to fight against rule somehow.  Don’t you take that away from me.”

We sat in silence for a minute before Harrison surprised me with an answer.  “I want to go with you.”

“What?” I felt my eyes pop out of my head.  “Are you crazy?”

“Why?  You do it?”

“Yeah.  Alone.  I’d be freaked out taking you with me.”


“No one can see.  No one can know.”

“And no one will.”

“No Harri, I won’t do it.  You can go by yourself if you want.  I’ll talk you through it.  But we can’t go together.”

“What if I met you up there?”

“You really want to do this?”



“I need to see it for myself.  I’m like you.  I need a meaning behind that monstrosity.  It has to have a reason.  I have to know why.”

“If you say so.  There’s nothing over there.”

“I say so.”

“Fine, alright then.  We’ll go, whatever you want.”

“Right,” he clenched his fists again.  “Yes, we’ll do it.  Cool.”

I shook my head and rolled my eyes.  “Of course.”  I caught sight of the time from the clock on the wall.  “Oh great.  I should’ve been home an hour ago.  Shit.”

“Good luck, Lea.  See you tomorrow,” Harrison called as I sped out the house and sprinted to my own across the street.

The backdoor creaked as I opened it and I winced, waiting for the shouting – but none came.  I crept inside and closed the door behind me, making as little noise as possible as I slipped off my shoes and tiptoed up the stairs and into my room.  I changed into my pyjamas and brushed the knots out of my hair, making sure it looked as though I’d been back a while.  I collapsed onto my bed, exhaling in a long sigh as I turned my eyes to the window and saw the wall beckoning me.

Come on Leanne, I dare you.


With great reluctance, I dragged myself to school in the morning.  It was so tempting just to disappear over the wall and lean my back up against it so no one would see me.  Then I could pretend that not only I didn’t exist, but that Havengore didn’t exist either.  I gave into conformity though as I knocked on Maisie’s door, tying my hair up as I waited for an answer.

“Lea,” she appeared, shutting the door behind her, breathless.  “You’re late.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Lea, you know I can’t be late.”

“Alright, alright.  Keep your hair on.”

She rolled her eyes.  “You know what I’m like.  You knew that when you decided to be my friend.”

“Very true.  Is it too late to take it back?”

“I’m afraid so.”


Linc was leaning up against the tree waiting for us when we rounded the corner of his road.  “What’ve you girls been up to?  How long does it take to do your hair?”

“About two seconds,” I answered.

“Well I can see that.”  He pulled on my ponytail.  “I assume it’s Lea’s fault we’re late.”

“Yes,” Maisie snapped.  “And now we’re going to have to walk twice the speed of normal to get there.”

Linc and I caught each other’s eye and raised our eyebrows.  I wondered what it would be like to live in Maisie’s head, always having to follow rules by the book, living your life on the tracks society placed for you before you were even born, when your parents were still living in Terriford, or maybe even before their parents moved to Terriford.  For generations, Havengore had been about repetition.  There was no one living who could remember the world without the wall.  They died out before our great-grandparents were born.  Knowledge of life before had vanished with the ones who’d lived it.  All their history had been lost to whatever happened to the world and their lives were written down by very few.  Even those accounts didn’t exist any longer.  They were destroyed for fear of someone disrupting the repetition, I assumed.  Who knew?

Our whole existence here was a mystery.  Was there another nation like ours on the earth?  As far as we were aware, no, there was not.  Havengore was the beginning and the end of the entire universe.  Yeah, like I could believe that.

My eyes wandered to the wall as I thought and Harrison, who I hadn’t even noticed had joined us, elbowed me in the ribs and shot me a look.  So instead of staring at the wall, I began watching the other students rushing, or dawdling here and there.  My eyes fell on a group of boys from our year all muttering to each other, Lucien Custer in the middle, a stupid smug look on his face.

“Oh my god!  Look Lucien’s done something cool!”  Linc danced about around us and we couldn’t help but laugh.  “We must go and see what it is!”  He dropped the act.  “Give me a break.”

“Hey look,” Maisie pointed to an identical looking group, except this group was made up of girls, Saffron Fletcher in the centre, a sly arrogant look on her face as her friends gushed over something.  “What’s going on?”

“Put two and two together, Maze,” I groaned.

“Oh god, I think I’m going to be sick,” Maisie squeaked.

Linc tutted.  “Well, well, that didn’t take long.”

“What did you expect of those two?  Decency?”

“Good point.  How long do you give it? A week?”

“A day.”

He raised his eyebrows.  “You’re on.”

The girls stopped talking as we passed them, as though we’d listen to their conversation, as though we’d care.  They all shot us a look that was indistinguishable from all the other looks.  These girls were identical, well, to me they were.  Why should I spend the time working out which one was which?  I only knew Saffron apart because I had the misfortune of having to share a few classes with her.  The same went for Lucien Custer.  I didn’t know which one I’d choose if I had to spend an eternity in hell with one of them.  Although I supposed the definition of hell would mean I’d get stuck with both.

“Hey Leanne,” one of the other girls sneered at me.  “Nice hair.”

I saw Lucien make his way over to Saffron, his friends following like flies.  “Good work, Ginge!” he called to me.  “At least make it a challenge for me to make fun of you!”

“Why would I give you the satisfaction?”  I said, more to myself than to him.

“Oh Lea,” Maisie fussed.  “Come here.”  We sat down on a bench so Maisie could redo my hair.  The boys and I shared the same look as Maisie brushed through my hair and pulled it into a much neater ponytail, like it mattered.  Their words couldn’t hurt me.  If not for Maisie, I would’ve kept my hair the same all day just to annoy Saffron and her cronies.  Perhaps I would’ve made it worse.  But I couldn’t torture Maisie like that.  “Lea,” Maisie poked me with her hairbrush.  “Hold this for a second please.”  I held out my hand, waiting for the hairbrush to be thrust into it, but nothing happened.  Instead, I felt Maisie’s hand on mine.  “Lea,” she breathed.  “What did you do?”

I snatched my hand away and shoved it into my pocket as I stood up.  “Nothing.  I just fell over.”

“Onto a piece of glass?”  Linc asked, tugging my hand out my pocked again to look at.

Harrison peered over my shoulder and began to say something but shut his mouth again, eyes wide as he realised how I must’ve done it.  From the corner of my eye, I saw his hands tense into fists.

I’d never been more relieved to hear the bell announcing the start of school in my entire life.  Maisie dropped my hand at once before calling a quick goodbye and disappearing off into the building.  The bell, however, had no effect on the boys.  It was almost as if it hadn’t sounded at all.

“Leanne,” Harrison took my hand to look at now.  “You have to be more careful.  You know no one can know about this.”

“Lea, you didn’t do this . . .” Linc’s eyes wandered to the wall before returning to mine.

“Yes okay, yes,” I took my hand back.  “Yes I did this on the wall and yes I need to be more careful, but would you two please shut up about it!”  I grabbed my bag from the bench and stormed into the building.  As I did this, I saw Lucien Custer staring at me, an unreadable expression on his face.


I stared wide-eyed as Maisie began scribbling as soon as we were given our instructions.  She’d written an entire page by the time I’d finished gazing out of the window.  Lucien caught my eye as I returned to my work.  He smirked and winked at me.  I felt my face pull into an expression of disgust and I heard him chuckle.  What did he want from me?

Harrison kicked the back of my chair as our teacher popped out of the classroom.  I spun round to talk to him.

“Have you actually done any work?”  Harrison laughed.

“Did you see Lucien?  I think he suspects something.”

“How come?”

“I think he might have heard earlier when we were talking.”

Harrison bit his lip and squeezed his pen.  “Not good.”

“He won’t say anything will he?”

Harrison shrugged.  “Dunno, he’s unpredictable.”

“Should I talk to him, or would that make it worse?”

“How the hell am I supposed to know?”

Maisie looked up from her work.  “Leanne, what’s going on?”

I decided to play it ignorant.  “What do you mean?”

“I have ears you know.  What has Lucien heard?”


She raised her eyebrows.  “Don’t lie to me, Lea.  What are you keeping from me?”

“Nothing.  I can’t . . .” I looked about me.  “I can’t go into it now, let’s just leave it there.”

Maisie shook her head and got back to her work.  “Whatever you say.”

“Maze, seriously.  I really can’t say here.”

Our teacher re-entered, ending the conversations that had sparked up around the room.  As I put pen to paper at last, I snuck a look at Lucien, and again he was watching me.  What was his game?  Well I had no choice did I?  I had to find out.

I found my chance at lunch when I saw Lucien at his locker, alone.  I lent up against the row of lockers behind the door and he laughed, shaking his head as he shut his locker and caught me there.  “Well, well, well.  Ginge, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“What did you hear?”

“Excuse me?”

“Earlier, before school, what did you hear?”

He crossed his arms.  “Why?  Was it a secret?”

“Don’t play games with me.  Did you hear, or not?”

“Well if I did, I feel as though I’d have some power over you, no?”

“Come on, this is actually important.”

“Oh really?”

“Lucien!”  I hated that I sounded as if I was almost begging.

“Alright.  As what I think I heard appears to be what I actually heard, we can’t talk about it here.”

“Oh shit.”

He nodded and laughed.  “Yep.  I’ll meet you after school.  I need some answers.”

“And if I don’t want to give you them?”

“Well let’s just say I now hold some very valuable information, don’t I?”

“Don’t underestimate me, Custer.  I will kill you if this gets out.”

He wrapped his hand around my forearm and squeezed hard, pressing me up against the lockers.  “Your attempt at ruling over me, Ginge, is incredibly pitiful.”

“Touched a nerve there didn’t I?  Is it really that, or is it that name?  Eh, Custer?”

“Mark my words, Ginge, nothing you say will ever scare me.”

“No, you mark my words, Custer, nothing you can do can ever scare me.  Especially if what you think you heard, is actually what you heard, and is actually what I did.  In that case, don’t you think it’s more likely that you’d be scared of me?”

“Except that I’m now in power of your little secret, and if you have anything to worry about, Ginge, it’d be me telling.  So I think you should be scared of me.”

“Tonight, you get answers, and then this is over.  You can’t use this against me if I answer your questions.  Deal?”

He appeared to think this over for a moment, before offering his hand.  “Deal.”

I shook his hand and nodded.  “Tonight.  Nine o’clock.  I’ll meet you outside school.”  And with that, I turned and walked away.

I felt anxious for the rest of the day, which didn’t go unnoticed by Linc and Maisie as I returned to them after my encounter with Lucien.

“Lea, when can you tell me about whatever’s going on?”

“Later Maze, not here.”

“Why not?”

“Someone might be listening.”

“Who?  Who would be interested in listening to us?”

“You never know who’s listening.”

Linc interrupted Maisie before she had a chance to answer.  “She’s right, Maze, not here.”

I couldn’t help but lock my eyes to Lucien Custer as he entered the dining hall and sauntered over to Saffron.  Maisie and Linc looked up too as Saffron began to yell.

I held my palm out to Linc.  “Pay up.  One day, that was my guess and here it is.”

“No way,” he laughed.  “We didn’t bet money.”

“Damn.  Next time we will.”

We shut up as the whole hall went quiet to listen.

“I can’t believe you told them!”  As Saffron shrieked, I noticed a few people flinch from the sound as it reverberated around the room.

“As though you didn’t say anything.”

“Not like you did!  Every detail, you pig!  What’s wrong with you?”

He shrugged and shook his head.  “I didn’t know there were rules.”

“How stupid can you get!”

“Watch it,” he advanced so they were only a few centimetres apart, she had to look up a little, but that didn’t seem to bother her.  “You sound like you don’t appreciate my company anymore.”

“Well maybe I don’t.  Maybe this was a big mistake.”

They glared at one another, but stopped talking.  Saffron began to look about her, like she’d only just noticed the entire school was watching them.

“Go on then,” Lucien spat.  “Say whatever it is you want to say.”  He held his arms out wide.  “Everyone’s listening.”

She shook her head.  I had to strain to hear them, but I just about managed it, being only a bench away.  “Not here.  Not now.  Let’s talk about this later.”

“I don’t want to talk later!  What’s wrong with talking right now!”

“Shut up, you dick!”  She attempted to push him away from her, but he didn’t move an inch.

He grabbed her by the arm as he’d done to me.  “Well you’d know all about that wouldn’t you, Saffy.”

She looked as though she wanted to claw his eyes out, but her friends took hold of her and pulled her away.

Lucien turned around, observing his audience.  “Everyone enjoy that?”  The hall was silent.  “Well show’s over.”  He stormed out of the room and as soon as the door was shut behind him the hall filled with fierce whispering.

“Well that was entertaining.”  I couldn’t help but grin.

“If it was anyone else but those two I’d feel bad for them.”  Maisie added.

“Yeah, well, we need to get our drama from somewhere.  Nothing happens around here.”

“There’s always drama where you’re concerned, Lea.”  She grabbed my hand before I had a chance to hide it in my lap.  “God knows what you get up to.”

“Well, you’d never believe me if I told you.”  I smiled.

“That’s what I’m worried about.  Maybe I don’t want to know after all.”

“Well maybe that’d make my life so much easier.”

We continued chatting for the rest of lunch.  I deflected any questions about what I’d been doing or about what was wrong.  I didn’t tell them about Lucien.  Not because I didn’t trust them.  There were no two people I trusted more in the world, apart from maybe Harrison.  No, I just . . . well I didn’t want them to know.  This was between me and him and after tonight I wanted to hear no more about it.

I craved to be atop the wall like never before as I endured the rest of the school day.  I needed to escape, disappear, if only for a few hours.  Once I’d dropped Linc and Maisie off at their homes, I raced to my own, changing in seconds and shouting goodbye to whichever parent was in, if any, as I sped from the house as fast as I’d entered.

The streets of South Edwards were more difficult to manoeuvre through by day, just because I was concerned I was being watched.  I made my way round all the backstreets, not really paying any attention.  I didn’t really have to concentrate at all; I made this journey almost every day now.  I slowed when I reached the alley I used to access the mesh fence.  I walked past it once, flicking my head in its direction to check there was no one hiding down there.  I walked down the street for a few more metres before crossing over and making my way back the way I’d just been.  When I passed the alleyway, which was now on the other side of the street, I crossed over again.  I slipped into the crowd of people all either rushing to be somewhere or happy chatting.  No one paid any attention to me.  I turned sharp into the alley and continued walking, not pausing, not looking back, acting as if I needed to be down there.  Well I did really, but I needed to look natural.  Nothing suspicious going on here.  I walked along the mesh fence until I found the gap and ducked underneath it.

I stared up at the wall as I reached it.  As I grew, I never seemed to get any closer to the top.  It was as though the wall grew with me.  It still towered over me as much as it had the first day I’d snuck out of the house and found myself here, staring up at the monstrous thing.  It said the same thing today that it had every day since our meeting.  Come on Leanne, I dare you.  Then, unlike now, I was frightened by the challenge.  Climb the wall, no way.  Nobody crossed the boundary, nobody even touched the wall.  I remember first having that thought and grazing my hand across the stone.  I did the same now, sighing as I made contact.  More ivy had twisted its way through the wall since then.  It can’t have been dangerous as it was still here.  I tugged on a bit and it came loose, raining dirt down into my hair.

“It’ll take more than that to deter me,” I whispered to the wall.  It was a new thing for me, talking to it.  It didn’t make me crazy though.  I was crazy enough for climbing the damn thing.  I couldn’t get crazier than that.  I’d even been over the thing.  Well I must admit, I was proud of that.

I backed away and took a running jump to grab one of the lower branches on the tree.  I grunted as I made contact, finding my footing on the familiar bumps and dips.  I hauled myself up and sat on top of the branch looking down, panting.  I couldn’t help but grin.  It got easier and easier every time.  First time it was a disaster, I couldn’t even get on the branch, I could grab on, but I hadn’t enough strength to pull myself up.  I was smaller then.  Six years later and it was just second nature.  Once I had my breath back, I climbed the tree until I reached the branch that was growing over the wall.  I balanced across it with an easy familiarity and gazed out into the nothingness spread out before me.  I sat and admired the view of the sun setting in what might as well be a different world as I waited to meet Lucien.

When the sun went down and the world was plunged into darkness, I descended back to Havengore and went to sit outside the front of the school, picking grass out the ground and throwing it away.  I was like this when Lucien found me.  “What fun your life is, Ginge.”

 I didn’t answer and just beckoned him to follow me through the deserted streets around the back of the school.  When I was sure no one was around, no one had seen us, and we hadn’t been followed, I turned to Lucien.  “What do you think you heard?”

“Well, as what I thought I heard is impossible, I must be mistaken.”

“Spit it out.  You wanted to talk.  You wanted answers.”

“Maybe I’ve had time to think about it and I don’t believe you.”

“That’s fine by me if you don’t.  Maybe I’m lying, you know, trying to big myself up in front my friends.”

“Crush on Brains is it?”

I was taken aback.  “What?”

“Well it’s not Linc is it, Maisie has that covered, or maybe ‘Mouse’ would be a more suited name.”

“What’s your problem?”  I shook my head.  “Can’t you just leave us alone?  Or is it just for me?  You don’t even speak to them.  Why am I your favoured target?”

“Perhaps because you’re so easy to wind up.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, Custer.  What did you hear?”

We were only a foot apart, but he closed that distance between us and whispered into my ear.  “It doesn’t matter.  No one climbs the wall.  You’re such a liar.”

I took a step back.  “Good.  I’m glad we agree.  Of course I didn’t climb it.  No one does.  Happy now?  Let’s forget this ever happened.”  I went to walk away, but he grabbed my wrist and spun me back round to face him.

“But of course, you’re forgetting the fact that I know you did it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, if you hadn’t done it and it was a lie, you would’ve tried to convince me you had done it just now.”

“Why would I feel the need to prove myself to you?”

He shrugged.  “You tell me.”

“It’s stupid anyway.  No one can climb that thing.  And who would want to.”

“Exactly, I was hoping you were going to enlighten me on that.  Tell me, Ginge, what is it up there that holds such a draw for you?”

I threw my arms out wide.  “What a mystery.”

“Show me.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Show me.  Now.  It’s dark, take me over the wall.”

“And why should I do that?”

“Because now I know for sure you have been over it.”

“You little shit.  Our deal was I answer your questions.  Go on, throw them at me.  This wasn’t part of our deal.”

“I don’t care.  The power is in my hands.  Maybe I don’t want my questions answered anymore.  Maybe I want to see it for myself.”

I shook my head and looked him up and down, trying to work out his game.  I still wasn’t sure what it was he wanted from me, except now access to the wall.

“Come on, Ginge, you know you want to.”

“Do I now?”


“And why’s that.”

“Because you have to prove yourself to me.”

“That’s it.”  I began walking away, shoving my hands in my pockets and muttering to myself.  “You can’t control me, Custer.  You don’t scare me.”


I stopped dead.  I could feel his grin on my back.  I knew he’d only said it to make me turn around.  I knew he only said it to make me come back and show him the wall.  I knew that, but I couldn’t let it go.  I was not a coward.

I turned around to face him again.  “The only coward around here is you.”

“See, I told you.  You have to prove yourself to me.  You’re going to a lot of trouble though.  Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“That’s low, Custer.  First Harrison, now you.  If you want to taunt someone at least pick your battles.”

“Oh but with you, Ginge, it’s just far too easy.”

“You flatter yourself.”

“Maybe I deserve it.”

I cleared the gap between us.  “You really are just a self-centred twat aren’t you?”

“Takes one to know one, Ginge.  I just find it hard to believe that you don’t care what I think.”

“I don’t care.  Not one tiny bit.”

“I beg to differ.”

“You want me to show you or not?  Let’s see who’s all talk.”  I started walking away throwing one word over my shoulder as I did so.  “Coming?”

His footsteps were beside mine at once, and for a change, not one word was passed between us until we were staring up at my part of the wall.  The satisfaction I received from the fear on Lucien’s face was priceless.

“You see that tree?  You see that branch hanging over the wall?  It’s strong enough to hold your weight.”

He let out all his air in one massive breath.  “You think I’ll trust you just like that?  Why on earth should I believe you?  You seriously are in a league of your own, Ginge.”

I shrugged and breezed past him, using his own trick against him and whispering in his ear.  “I dare you.”

I sprinted over to the tree, leapt, grabbed the branch, heaved myself up, jumped to my feet and made my way over to the wall.  I stopped as I reached the edge, staring down to the side of nothing.  I shut my eyes, breathing slow and steady for a second before falling to the floor, crouching as I made contact with the other side, the waist length grass crunching under my feet.  I huffed as I made impact, breath knocked out of me.  I was glad Lucien couldn’t see that and I’d have the pleasure of watching him.  Although that meant I couldn’t watch him struggle over the wall on Havengore side.  I heard enough panting and groaning to make me smirk though.  When he emerged at last on top of the wall he rested his hands on his knees, gasping for breath.  I forced back the laugh building in my throat.  “So you’re not all talk then?”

“Contrary to popular belief.”  He descended and landed as I had, trying to look cool or impress me or something as he could've at least waited to catch his breath.  “So now I’m curious.”  He picked himself up and walked around for a moment.  “What does this place hold for you?”

“Nah, you forfeited your right to ask me questions when you changed the deal.”

He held up his hands in mock surrender.  “Okay, okay.  Fine.”  He was silent, not for long enough though here in my quiet place.

I realised then, as he disrupted my sacred place, that he was the only one I’d ever taken here.  He was the only person I’d ever let close enough to break the silence, even though Harrison asked me yesterday if he could come.  A crash of guilt hit me with full force.  Wow, I was a terrible friend.

“There can’t just be nothing out here can there?”

“I said no questions.”

“Who says I was directing it at you?”  I watched him stare into the blank of nothing.  It was nothingness even in daylight, but at night there wasn’t even nothingness to see.  He squinted and edged forward before turning back to me.  “Well I’m going to explore.”

I would’ve crossed my arms and rolled my eyes and said something clever if not for the look of total seriousness on his face.  So instead I choked out some form of reply.  “What?”

He laughed.  “Oh Ginge, I thought you were going to at least match me.”

“I thought you weren’t crazy.  But apparently I was wrong.”

“Aren’t you just a little curious?”

“Yes of course.”  This time I huffed and crossed my arms to my chest, shutting out the cold.  “But going out there is suicide.  You’d die.”

“Overdramatic.  You would not die.  There’s nothing there.  I just want to wander for a few minutes.  Unless you’re scared?”

“I’m not scared.  I just have some common sense.  You said it yourself, there’s nothing out there, so why do you want to walk about in it.”

“To say I have.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.  You couldn’t say that – to anyone.  You know what it’s like.”

“True.  But something’s nagging at me.  I feel like I have to have a look at least.”

Didn’t I know the feeling?  I dare you to climb me, Leanne.  I dare you to run from me, Lucien.

“If you’re set on the plan of certain death, be my guest.”

He looked as if he really was going to walk into the distance then.  He turned and walked a few steps, this time using my own trick against me.  “Coming?”  It was a dare, pure and simple.  If I couldn’t ignore one from the wall, how could I ignore one of his?

“Okay, okay.  I’ll go with you.”

He turned back to face me.  “How did I know you would?”

“Because, Lucien Custer, I am not a coward.  But let’s at least be sensible.  We can’t go now, it’s dark.  What’s wrong with after school another night when there’s actually something to see?”
He tutted.  “Where’s your sense of adventure?  Where’s the challenge?”

“Why does it have to be a challenge?”

“Because otherwise it’s no fun.”

“I’m still trying to work out what the hell you want from me.”

“That’s impossible seeing as I don’t even know myself.  But I do know I want an adventure.  Life is so repetitive over that side of the wall.”  He pointed to Havengore as though he’d been over this side a lot longer than he had.  “I want a challenge.”

“Fine.  What do you propose?”

“Mouse over the wall.”

I started before shaking my head.  “I was right, you are crazy.  You could never get Maisie over the wall.”

“Well I’m not going to.  You are.  I’ll give you until Thursday, we’ll go over then.”


“If you want to go in the daylight, you have to bring Mouse.”

“Alright.”  Two could play at that game.  “If you want me to come and bring Maisie, you have to bring Saffron.”

“And why on earth would I want to do that?”  His teeth snapped together and if I wasn’t mistaken he looked as though he was glaring at me now.  Excellent.

“Because those are the conditions laid out before you.”

“And if I refuse?”

“No penalty, just the knowledge that you lost to me and that you’re a failure should be good enough.”

“Thursday, five o’clock, civilisation side of the wall.”  He offered me his hand.

I shook it, smirking, before pulling myself up the mirroring tree on this side of the wall and climbing myself back onto my familiar friend.  As I looked back at Lucien, I could see the cogs turning in his head.  “Oh and Lucien,” I called.  He looked up at me.  “You have to get Saffron over the wall.”


I thought all night and the following day about how to get Maisie anywhere near the wall, let alone up it, or even over it.  I needed a plan.  So far I had nothing.  The only way I could have a plan was if I had Harrison, and that meant telling him about my little rendezvous with Lucien.  That was not going to be pretty.

I knocked on Harrison’s door after school.  I had no other option.  “Lea?”  He looked confused when he opened the door.  “What is it?”

“Couldn’t I just want to hang out?”

“It’s unlikely.”

“I’m not that bad am I?”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Oh alright, just let me in.”  He did and we went up to his bedroom where I sank down onto his bed and he his desk chair.  “I need your help.”

“Well that much is obvious.”

“I have some explaining to do.  Don’t interrupt though, you can shout at me in a minute.”

He sighed.  “Oh good.  Let me hear it.”

“So basically yesterday I was worried that Lucien had heard us talking.  Well, he did.  I know that because I confronted him.  He swore not to tell anyone if I gave him answers.”

“You didn’t agree to him did you?”

“I told you not to interrupt.”

“Oh Lea, you didn’t?”

“Anyway, I met him after school.”

Harrison groaned.  “You can’t trust a word that comes out of his mouth.”

“Would you just listen?  To cut to the chase, you can’t trust anything he says – I know – so I was afraid of him telling, he accused me of being a coward, he dared me, one thing led to another and we were over the wall.”


“I know, I know.  It gets worse.”

“How can it!”  Harrison was out of his chair now, hands balled into fists.

“He wanted to explore and I couldn’t lose or be a coward and I don’t know really but I’ve got myself into a deal now.  On Thursday we’re going to explore.  I have to bring Maisie and he has to bring Saffron.  Whoever doesn’t is a loser and fails.”

“So!  Who cares!  Leanne, what the hell were you thinking!”

“I wasn’t thinking.  He just gets to me.”

“How did you even get to that point!  How did you even get over the wall!”

“I don’t really remember.”


“How am I supposed to remember every word he said to me to wind me up?”

“Exactly, Lea, to wind you up.  That’s his only goal ever, he has no other motive, you just let him.”

“That’s not fair, you weren’t there.  You don’t know.”

He sighed.  “But I know you.  Oh god, Lea.  Look at the mess you’ve got yourself into.”

“I know.  That’s why I need your help.”

“Why should I help you when you went over the wall with him and you wouldn’t even take me?”

“That’s not fair.”

“Why not?”

“I said we’d go.”

“You didn’t mean it.”

“Yeah well neither did you!”  I was up now.  “You can’t have it both ways, Harrison!  You want to go, I’ll take you.”

He shook his head.  “It makes me sick that you can’t see his little games.  He knows exactly how to manipulate you.”

“Harrison, I’m sorry, okay.  I’m sorry.  Please help me.  I know I’m stupid.  I know it’s just his game, I know.  But that doesn’t mean I can lose to him.”

He shut his eyes and took a slow breath.  “I’ll help you on one condition.”


“I get to come too.”

“What?  You just said –”

“I know.  But it’s not Lucien Custer swaying my decisions.  I wanted to go anyway, and I definitely cannot have you going on your own.  You blew me off once, like I could let you do it again.”

I flew over to him and squeezed him tight.  “You’re the best.”

“I know.  So Maisie, huh?  Could he have picked anything more difficult?”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s why I’m making him bring Saffron.”


“So what do I do?  How can I get Maisie even close to the wall?”

He thought for a moment.  “How much are you willing to risk?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I can only think of one sure-fire way to get Maisie over the wall, and it includes bringing someone else into it.”


He nodded.  “Exactly.  We get Linc in, we may have a chance with Maisie.”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?  So I have to get Linc in first and then get him to help us persuade her.”


“Wouldn’t it be better if it looks like – I don’t know – a fun outing or something?”

“Oh yeah, loads of fun.”

“Hey, you’re the one who actually wants to do this.”

“That doesn’t mean I have any responsibility in dragging Linc and Maisie into it.  That’s your problem, not mine.”

“You’re really not going to help me?”

He shook his head.  “No way, this is between you and Lucien Custer.”

“Alright.”  I sighed.  “Thanks Harrison.”

He laughed.  “For what?”

“I don’t know.  Listening, understanding, helping me.”

He pulled me into a hug and ruffled my hair.  “What else am I here for?”

“Good point.”

“Watch it.  Now if I were you I’d go get a head start on Linc.”

Without another word I was gone and making my way to Linc’s front door.  “Lea!”  Linc, unlike Harrison, wasn’t made wary by my sudden appearance.  “Come in.”  I did and slumped down on my favourite spot in his bedroom, a comfy half sofa thing he sat on to play his video games.  As the years passed, that damn thing got comfier and comfier.  “What’s up?”

“I was just thinking.”

“No change there then.  What about this time?  No wait, let me guess . . . it’s the wall again isn’t it?”

I raised my eyebrows at him.  “That’s not all I think about.”

“No?  Well I beg to differ.”

“Linc, how long have we been friends?”

“As long as I can remember, why?”

“I was just trying to figure out why you seem to know me so well.”

“You’re not the hardest nut to crack.”

“Oh really?”  I threw a pillow at him.  “Maisie doesn’t get me.”

“Harrison does, and Maisie’s known you longer than he has.”

“Harrison’s too smart for his own good.”

“Even so, you’re easy, Lea.”

“That explains why Lucien gets to me in a heartbeat.”

“Lucien Custer can get to everyone.  It’s a talent he specialises in.  I don’t think it’s just you, Lea.”

“Well it certainly seems like it.”

“What’s he done now?”

“Ever thought about breaking the rules so spectacularly that if we did we’d be . . . I don’t know, on the news or something?”

“Oh god. Lea, stop right there.  I’m never going to do anything like that.”

“You might, you don’t know what it is yet.”

“Well it’s something bad and it’s something to do with Lucien Custer and it’s something to do with the wall.”

I shook my head.  “You’re incredible.”

“Nah, you’re just readable.  Although it’d be cool to be known as Linc Connors the Incredible.”

“Keep dreaming.”

“So in answer to your question . . . I don’t know.”

“You don’t even know what the question was.”

“Do I want to go over the wall with you – and apparently Lucien?  I imagine some sort of out of hand dare between the two of you.”

“Yes, yes, okay.  Stop showing off.”

“I don’t know about this, Lea.”

“Why, because we’d be in some serious shit if we were caught?”

“Well that as well.  Isn’t it scary dangerous over there?”

“Trust me, nothing is over there.”

“Yeah from what you can see.  Who knows how little a distance you have to go to be in danger.”

I shrugged.  “We won’t go far.  I wouldn’t put you in danger.”

“Well I’d like to believe that to be true.”

“Why would I willingly lead you into danger?  Linc, come on, it’s me.  Please, as your friend?”

“That’s low,” he laughed.  “How dare you use ‘as your friend’ against me like that!”

“Oh come on, like you wouldn’t.  And isn’t curiosity driving you crazy anyway?”


“You wait.  Now I’ve planted the idea in your head it will.  From what I’ve seen there’s nothing out there.  There are some trees in the very distance but that’s it.  Now you tell me you’re not curious?  We don’t know why there’s even a wall in the first place.  We don’t know why Havengore is our whole world.”

“The wall protects us, Lea.  It’s not safe out there.”

“Says who?”


“And how can they know.  The memory of before has vanished.  Maybe it was a war between other people, in which case it’s over now.  Why is there a wall protecting us from nothing?  Or does that mean that we’re being kept in?”

He smirked and shook his head.  “I can’t believe you.  What’re you doing to me?”

“Just watering that seed I planted.  I’m going over the wall with Lucien Custer on Thursday.  That should be enough time for my little flower to grow, huh?”

“Oh Lea.  You clearly don’t know me as well as I know you.”

“Oh no?”  I grinned.  “I’m your best friend, Linc, of course I do.”

“Well you don’t know what I’m thinking.”

“Oh yes I do.”

“Go on then.  What?”

“You’re thinking you’re already in.”

He just stared at me for a moment, astonished.  “Okay.  That was kinda amazing.”

“Nah, you’re just readable.  I’m a long way off from being Leanne Anderson the Amazing.”

He laughed.  “And thank god for that.  If you had superpowers I don’t know whether any of us would be safe.”

“Oh don’t worry.  You would be.  Lucien Custer on the other hand . . .”

“You completely ignored my question about him earlier.  Now I’m in, I at least deserve an answer to that.”

I smiled.  “You’re in?”

“Of course.  When do you know me to miss a bit of fun?”

As I jumped up and hugged him tight I tried not to think about how we’d been the same height our entire lives until only two years ago.  Now when I squeezed him as tight as my arms would allow, my head was resting against his chest.  My head wasn’t even level with his shoulder.

“So,” Linc said as I let him breathe again.  “Tell me, what’s he done this time?”

I told Linc the same thing I’d told Harrison, but Linc was far more amused.  “Like Lucien can get Saffron over the wall!”

“Like I can get Maisie over.”

“And he called her ‘Mouse’?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Nothing, I just think it really suits her.”

“You’re not going to start using it are you?  She won’t thank you for it.  And that really won’t help my cause.”

“You’re really thinking of getting her over?”

“Oh yeah.  He can’t beat me.  No way.”

“Is that why I’ve been dragged into this – Maisie?”

“Not entirely.”

He raised his eyebrows at me.  “Oh really?”

“Yes, okay, yes.  But I would’ve asked you anyway.  Couldn’t leave you out now could I?”

“Aww, that’s so sweet.”

“Yeah.  So will you help me get Maisie over?”

“How on earth am I supposed to do that?”

“Offer it to her.  Talk to her about it.  Convince her we’ll be safe, it’ll only be an hour or so and no one will see us.”

“And you really think that’s gonna work?”

“It might if we’re both on it all week.”

“I still doubt it very much, but I’ll try.”

“We can do this.  We can win against him.  I mean, there’s no way Saffron would get over the wall, she might get her hands dirty.”

Linc chuckled.  “Or chip a nail or rip a hole in her clothes.”

“Exactly.  We’ve won this.”

“All there is left to do is get our little friend Mouse to come out of hiding.”

“That’s easier said than done.”


Later that night, I phoned Maisie to chat about a piece of homework I couldn’t care less about.  This was how I was planning to set a trap for my little Mouse.


“Hmm.”  I could hear her typing on the other end of the phone.

“Listen for a minute, this is important.”

She huffed but stopped.  “What is it?”

“Something’s bothering me.”

“Okay.”  I had her attention.  “Maybe I can help.”

“You might not like it.”

“Probably not, but I’ll always help you, Lea.  If that’s what you want.”

I smiled, Maisie was the best.  “The wall . . . now what’s that all about?”

“You might as well have asked me what the meaning of life was.”

“I know,” I laughed, keeping it light-hearted.  I couldn’t be too serious, after all, you never know who’s listening.  “But I just wondered if you ever thought about it?”

“Of course I do.  I don’t think anyone just lives with it, not round here anyway.”

“True.  So what do you reckon?  What’s your favourite theory?”

We got chatting like this for over an hour before I hung up and went to bed.  That was the plan.  With Maisie it was a case of feeding it to her bit by bit, unlike the boys.  I wanted to get her comfortable about talking about the wall and lead her to question her favourite thing – the goddamn rules.  That was the only way this thing was going to work.

I made sure I was at Maisie’s front door five minutes before she expected me.  It couldn’t hurt to get in her good books all round.

“Hey!”  She looked a little stunned to see me waiting, ready, hair presentable and everything.

“Ready to go?”

“Always,” she giggled.  “I’m amazed that you are.”

“I know.”

“What you said bugged me last night.”

Excellent.  “Which bit?”

“Well all of it really.  I can’t stop thinking about why.  There wouldn’t be a wall unless it was absolutely necessary would there?”

“No.  Well I mean it probably was necessary when they built it.  It doesn’t mean that it’s necessary now.  It’s like one of those old laws that no one’s bothered to lift until someone stumbles across it and goes ‘Wow, that was a stupid law’.”

“Hmm.  But what if it’s not stupid?”

“Then don’t you think they’d tell us about it to stop all this wondering?  I know if they said that there were monsters and fire and disease out there I wouldn’t be as interested as I am.”

We stopped outside Linc’s.  He caught sight of us through his window and stuck his head out.  “Can’t you girls be consistent?  Give me a few minutes!”

I laughed and shook my head.  I caught Maisie giggling and she blushed a little.  She soon shifted the attention.  “Lea, that thing you wouldn’t tell me yesterday.  I think it’s about time for that now, don’t you?”

“Alright,” I sighed.  “But you have to promise not to go ape-shit.”

She recoiled at my language but agreed.

“I like to sit on top of the wall to think.”

She blinked a couple of times and stared at me.  “You’re joking?”

I shook my head.  “No.  I like the silence.  I like staring over into the nothingness and feeling small.”  I shrugged.  “It’s nothing major.”

“Leanne!  Do you even understand how much trouble you could get in for that?”

“I know, I know.  But I’ve never been caught.  Even if I had, I’d fight for myself.  I only sit there.  What’s wrong with that?”

“A hundred things!”

“Name me one.”

As I expected, she could only think of one.  “It’s against the rules!”

“Like we just discussed, they’re old out-of-date rules.  I’m just the one to stumble across it and show everyone it’s stupid.”

She crossed her arms.  “I don’t like this.”

“I’m in absolutely no danger whatsoever.  I’m not hurting anyone and I’m not damaging the wall.  What’s wrong with that?”

She looked completely lost.  “But it’s dangerous.”

“The only danger out there is falling down and breaking something.  There’s nothing but grassland over the wall.”

“Maybe it’s poisonous.”

“It’s not.”

Her eyes widened.  “Please don’t tell me you’ve been over to the other side.”

I couldn’t help but smirk.  “Maybe.”


“Come on, this just makes the mystery bigger.  There’s nothing over there but grass, perfectly safe grass.  So why are we barriered off from it?  Why haven’t we built houses over it?  I’m telling you, that wall is pointless.”

I let that stick as Linc came out to join us.  “You two are ridiculous.”

“You weren’t as annoyed yesterday when I almost made us late.”

“You didn’t make me rush.”

“Rush what?  You were dressed when we got here?  Or is it your hair?”  I went to mess it up with my hand but he just moved out of my reach.

“Aww, short stuff.”

“Hey, I’m taller than some.”

“Hey!”  Maisie returned to us.

“Oh!”  Linc wrapped his arm around Maisie.  “I’m sorry Mouse, I didn’t see you there!”

“Damn you, Linc Connors!”  She shook him off.  “I’m not that small!”

“You’re smaller than our friend the wall scalar over there.”

“You knew about that?”  Maisie’s eyes widened.  “How long has this been going on?”

I cringed before answering.  “Six years.”

“What!  You’ve been going since you were ten and you never said a word to me!”

“Come on, Maze, I didn’t even know you back then.”

She turned on Linc.  “And what about you?  When did you find out about this?”

“Calm down, I only found out the other day, and she didn’t exactly tell me.  I caught her.”

“Leanne!  You promised me you’d never been caught!”

“Apart from Mr Nosy who was spying on me, I haven’t.  I told you, there’s no danger.  If there was do you really think I’d tell you about it, of all people?”

She calmed after a moment.  “I suppose not.”

“Thank you.”

We walked in silence for the rest of the journey.  A smile lit up my face as I saw Lucien Custer in the corner of the school premises bickering with Saffron.  I was way ahead of him.  I was sure Maisie was going to think about everything I’d said all day.  It would eat at her as it would anyone.  I mean, even if you’re a follower of the rules, that doesn’t mean you don’t follow a rule you don’t understand.


There was a knock on my door after school.  It was no big surprise to me that it was Maisie, dragging Linc behind her.  “I need to talk to you,” she hissed.

I led them up to my bedroom where I shut the door and pressed my back up against it.  I didn’t know whether to be pleased or scared by the look on Maisie’s face.  I took a deep breath either way.  “So, what’s up?”

“I think you know perfectly well what’s up!”

I looked to Linc who was trying not to laugh.  I hoped he kept his mouth shut.  That would not go down well.

“You are planning on going over the wall with Lucien Custer!”

“Thank you very much, Linc Connors.”  I scowled at him.

“When were you planning to tell me?”

“About now actually.”

“This is ridiculous, Leanne.  First you sit up there – I thought that was bad enough.  Then you go over there, now you want to walk around in no-man’s-land with Lucien Custer?”

“It’s not that I want to.  It’s a deal.  I can’t be the loser, Maze, come on.  You know me.”

“I thought I did.  I didn’t think you were suicidal!”

Linc stepped in beside her and put his hand on her arm.  “Maisie.”  She jumped at the contact.  “She’s not suicidal.  There’s no danger out there.  She just needs to prove a point to Lucien Custer, her own curiosity, and society – that’s all.”

“You say that like it’s not a big deal.”

He laughed.  “Well it’s not.  Which is why I’m going with her.”

Her eyes grew huge and she took a step back from him.  “No.  Linc, are you stupid?  Are you crazy?”

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Whatever you wanna call it.”

“What possessed you?”

“I want to see for myself.  I want to know what’s out there.  And if you think for one second I’m leaving Lea alone with Lucien again . . .”

“It’s her own goddamn fault she’s in this mess in the first place.”

“I know.  But I can’t let anything happen to her, Maze, it would kill me.  Tell me, do you want to lose her?”


“Answer the question, Maisie.”

“Of course I don’t.  You know I love Leanne like a sister.  Of course I don’t.  I just can’t stand the idea of her being out there in the first place.”

“Well neither do I.  I’m more concerned about her safety than I am about my own.  I can’t just wave goodbye as she hops over the wall.  Maisie, I have to go too, please understand.”

She shook her head.

“Harrison will be there too.”  Although why he added that I don’t know.

“You dragged another person into this?”  That one was aimed at me.

“Actually, Harrison invited himself.  He’s been wanting to go for a while.  That’s nothing to do with me.”

“See Maze,” Linc continued.  “It’ll be okay.  We’ll all be fine.”  He swept a stray piece of hair off her face.

“Linc,” she caught his hand as it fell.  “It won’t be okay.  How am I supposed to sit back now and watch you both go?  You two are my very best friends.  I can’t just let you go without a fight.”

“Oh believe me,” I laughed.  “You haven’t.”

Linc smiled.  “Come with us then.”

She dropped his hand.  “Okay, now you’re crazy.”

“What’s crazy?  We’ll be fine.  There’s nothing dangerous out there.”

“I don’t care.  No way am I going over.”

“Why not?  Give me one good reason.”

“Linc,” I cut in.  “It’s okay.  Maisie, you don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to, but we are going.”  I really hoped this worked.  “Tomorrow at five o’clock, me and Linc are going over the wall with Harrison, Lucien, and possibly Saffron too depending on whether Lucien brings her.”

“But I thought they broke up?  You called it remember?”

I shrugged.  “I don’t know the inside of that boy’s head.  I don’t think anyone can.  Saffron or not, we’re going to go.  If you come or not is totally up to you.  It’s perfectly safe and we’ll be gone an hour, if that.  You’re perfectly welcome to come.  The invitation is open to you.”

“Please, Maze,” Linc added.  “Please come with us.”

She looked torn.  Of course she didn’t want to come with us.  It was a rule, a serious rule, how could she break it?  But we’d undermined the importance of it, made her think about it and question it.  We’d fixed doubt in her mind.  But was it enough?  If we hadn’t included our safety into the mix, her answer would’ve been a firm no, I was sure of that.  Thank goodness Linc had thought of that, although it wasn’t fair.  But none of this was.  It was selfish, I knew that.  I knew I was leading my three friends into the unknown for the sake of a bet and a dare.  But I couldn’t lose.  Never.  Not against him.

“What am I supposed to do?  You know what I’m like.  But . . . god!”  She buried her face in her hands.  “How can I let you two wander off into the distance without some sort of sense standing next to you?  I know Harrison’s there but . . . ugh!  Why are you doing this to me?”  She had tears in her eyes as she took her face from her hands to look at us.  A guilt so strong it weighed me down, lodged itself in my stomach then.  How terrible a friend was I?  They deserved so much better than me.  “How can you ask me to choose between you two and my principles?  That’s like asking me to choose between food and sleep.”

“But Maze,” Linc said.  “Only one of those is vital.”

“But which one is it?”  I asked, knowing my own answer.  I had my own set of principles, almost the complete opposite to Maisie’s, but even so, I knew how important they were to her, to me, to everyone.  Taking that into account though, I knew there was only one answer to my question.

“Of course you two are more important.”  Maisie’s voice was strained and lower than a whisper.

Linc took her in his arms at once and kissed the top of her head.  “Thank you,” he whispered into her hair.

I could see by the way her body moved against his that she was crying.  I had to bite on my lip to stop tears springing to my own eyes.  I was ready to call it off.  All I could see was what I’d done to Maisie.  All I could think about was how I’d been manipulating my friends.  From whatever angle you looked at it, we’d used emotional blackmail on Maisie, and I could never undo that.  But I was in too far.  I was halfway across the river, and to go back would be just as hard as trekking on forward.  So that’s what I decided to do, just keep on wading.  I’d won hadn’t I?  Maisie was coming.  If Lucien hadn’t convinced Saffron by now he was never going to, and that meant I was the overall victor.  And then all of this could stop and we could forget this disturbing thing ever happened.  That is . . . if Saffron stayed at home.

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