The Dark Light

Rebekah has lived on the island her whole life, and it's only now that she's starting to wonder what she might experience outside her strict religious community. Alex has been sent to the island to escape her dark past, and through her eyes it's a dark and sinister place. Thrown together by chance, Rebekah and Alex strike up an unlikely friendship and it's together that they attempt to break free of their worlds and make a world of their own. But when a kiss between the girls is witnessed by an islander there is no escape they can make - the Rapture is coming for them all.

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The first fire was an accident. I didn’t mean it to burn up so quick, so fast. I don’t even know why I did it. I was bored, I suppose, showing off. I set light to some chip wrappers and threw them in a pile of leaves that the caretaker had raked up next to the fence. It went up sudden and hot with a huge whoosh! that made everyone step back and nearly took Andrea Mason’s eyebrows off and then it spread to the brushwood fence of the houses that backed on to the playing field, and a plume of smoke rose like a sail above the school. I got put on report for six months after that. So when it came to the second one I knew exactly what I was doing.

I squirted lighter fuel on to the cardboard to make it burn better, then rolled the recycling bin up to the side of the house so she would be sure to see the flames outside her window. I hoped it burned her face off.

It had been going on for months. Dyke, lemon, lezzer. She wrote it in marker pen in the toilets. Alex Thomas is a Dyke! And, underneath, my actual phone number. Then it was big gobs of phlegm on the back of my bag, pictures on Facebook, text messages. Kaitlin Watts and her little minion Anna Evans, they’d turned me into their obsession, probably because they fancied each other really, but what could I do about that? And then one day on the bus home she grabbed my bag and spilled my stuff out over the top deck. All my school notes and books and the magazine I’d bought because it had a picture of Kristen Stewart on the cover. Look at her dyke magazine! Eugh, don’t touch it, you’ll catch something!

I stood and watched as great tongues of flame licked up the side of the house, the paint beginning to peel, then I turned and ran.

They picked me up in the park. We weren’t supposed to go there after dark on account of the muggers and prostitutes and homeless people. What a joke – there was never anyone there! It’s only because adults are afraid of the dark that they tell us not to walk about in it. But I wasn’t afraid of it. I’m made of the dark, me. I tattooed a moon into my thumb with a compass and Indian ink to remind myself. I smoked a cigarette and bounced my leg, so deep in thought and feeling I didn’t see them till it was too late and then there was no point in running.

‘Hello, Alex.’

Dick the Pig. Or PC Richards, if you read his name badge.

Sadsacks, the police, having to go round with their names on the whole time. Like they might get lost or something. He hated me. I mumbled something and pushed my hands into my pockets, jumping down off the bench. He had some woman PC with him too; that meant he planned on taking me down to the station.

‘There’s been a fire at the Meadow View B&B. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?’

I shrugged. No point denying it – they knew that I knew that they knew it was me – but why let them have the satisfaction of hearing me admit it?

‘Talkative as ever, I see,’ he said.

Most of the time I don’t see the point in talking. It’s just a load of blah blah blah about the weather or what do you want to eat for dinner or pointless things just to cover up for the fact that no one really says what they want to say or what they mean.

‘I’m going to have to ask you to come down the station.’

And he put handcuffs on me, even though he knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

There were Implications, apparently, and Consequences.

Ron and Bridget and Sue the Social Worker and Dick the Pig all looked serious, and I sat there running my thumbnail into the groove of the wood on the tabletop until Bridget told me not to.

‘There is CCTV evidence,’ Sue the Social Worker said. ‘You can’t deny it, Alex.’

The only thing I hadn’t bargained for: the camera outside the shop opposite that was pointed right at the driveway of the B&B.

‘Arson is a very serious offence.’

Dick the Pig mentioned Criminal Damage and Youth Court and Young Offenders. I flinched.

‘Heard that, didn’t you?’

Sue the Social Worker sighed and picked at her nails. ‘I told you, Alex. I said if you get into any more trouble it’ll be the youth courts.’

So when Bridget laid out her solution, I didn’t argue. It made sense. Go away for a bit, over the summer, take some time out, learn some new skills, start again. Go to sixth-form college in the autumn in another town.

‘Of course we can help you every step of the way with the transition.’

The transition. What she was really saying was that they wanted rid. Taking me on had been a mistake, although they were too proud to admit it. There can be no failure in the eyes of the Lord.

‘I think that’s a brilliant idea!’ Sue the Social Worker said in this fake enthusiastic way, as if they hadn’t already discussed this behind my back. ‘All those outdoor skills will really bring you out of yourself.’

Bridget had sold her the idea like it was some kind of holiday camp. And I guess she didn’t really do her research; she’d been watching too much reality TV. People transformed by the wild. Turned from soft saps into rugged heroes by making campfires and climbing mountains. But New Canaan wasn’t about outdoor skills. According to the leaflet it was a Christian community, living by the precepts set down in the Bible. Even more God Squad than Ron and Bridget.

‘And Pastor Bevins has had great success helping people with difficult backgrounds like yours.’

‘What do you think, Alex?’

I grunted. The room filled with the loud noise of everyone’s silent thoughts. Being quiet makes it easier to hear what people are thinking. You can see it on their faces. Sue the Social Worker with her irritable, professional kindness, Bridget desperate to find a solution that wouldn’t make her feel bad, Ron angry because I was costing him – he’d already offered to pay towards the repairs at Meadow View – and Dick the Pig looking smug, because he’d finally shown me who was boss.

‘I think you’re a very lucky girl,’ he said, ‘considering your previous. We’d be within the law to throw the book at you. But I’m inclined to be generous and I think that something like this could be exactly what you need. For someone with your background. Something to put a bit of backbone in you.’ I hated the way he tried to make himself sound magnanimous, like he was doing me a favour.

‘I think it would be a great solution,’ Sue the Social Worker said. I knew she’d already worked this out with Ron and Bridget anyway.

‘But it’s either that, or I’m going to have to suggest that Mr Davis presses charges,’ Dick the Pig went on. ‘Then it’s the youth courts.’

The decision had already been made then, and whatever fire there was in me had burned itself out.

‘Whatever,’ I said, not lifting my eyes from the floor.

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