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The Adventures of Merrick the Viking
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Nickname: Lone Star State
Citizen Known As: Texan (alternative - Texian)
Statehood: December 29, 1845; 28th
State Flower: Bluebonnet
Bird: Northern Mockingbird
Song: "Texas, Our Texas"
Largest Cities: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas & Austin
81. What is the state capital of Hawaii?
82. Springfield is the capital of which state?
The street light a couple of metres from Ty’s front gate spluttered out just as he walked under it. At once the shadows multiplied and deepened. The boy’s heart skipped a beat, then speeded up to something like a horse’s trot. He stared into the shadows, trying to see if anything lurked there. A dog barked nearby and he jumped the way you do when someone creeps up behind and shouts “Boo!” What’s the matter with you, you baby? You’re like a little kid creeping through a graveyard, hoping the ghosts won’t notice you.
Ever since Ty had left his school’s grounds and stepped onto the streets of Richmond, an inexplicable dread had descended on him. He wasn’t in the best of moods (who would be if they had just spent an hour in detention for not doing their geography homework?), but that didn’t even begin to explain it.
Maybe the business of the strange e-mail was preying on his mind more than he realised. Perhaps, but it still didn’t explain the steadily growing feeling that something was going to happen. Something unpleasant. Detention might make him feel down, but this was a completely different feeling: it was an instinctive fear, one he couldn’t even express in words. But of who or what he had no idea.
Something rustled underfoot and he looked down, moving his left foot back. There in front of it was an empty packet of bacon-flavoured Walker crisps. He frowned in dismay. It was strange since this wasn’t a busy street and every hour council robots cleaned the streets, as they did in all the other London boroughs, removing all rubbish. Therefore somebody must have walked past a few minutes ago. So what? Yet he felt a shiver run down his spine.
Ty glanced at his watch and saw that it was six oh-one. Much too early to be scared, he joked to himself in a vain attempt to keep his spirits up. He realised he’d slowed down so much that he was meandering along like someone out for a stroll after a heavy Christmas lunch.
It was quite ridiculous, he decided, someone of his age frightened of the dark – or was it something else? – and taking his time to walk home so that he didn’t have to face ... what? What could possibly be waiting for him? Still he wished that Isabel would be home from work.
He turned into the gateway in front of his house and hesitated, staring at the grey paving stones in disbelief. Lying there was an identical crisp packet to the one he’d just seen. Of course, someone could have walked along the street, eaten two packets of crisps and just happened to fling one of them at his front gate; or they could have gone in to ring the doorbell. It didn’t mean they were still there – and even if they were, it surely didn’t matter. Nevertheless, the hairs on the back of his neck were prickling as if ants were swarming all over them.
Ty looked up and down the street, hoping to see someone walking towards him, even a policeman. But there was no one. Apart from himself the street was deserted. He sighed and was shocked at how shaky his breath sounded. Come on, scaredy cat, get on with it.
He took another breath, deep and long, then let it out slowly (it sounded a little less shaky than the other and that encouraged him a little). He slid the handle to the right, pushed open the gate and stepped through.
Someone grabbed his right arm from behind; simultaneously their other hand covered his mouth as he gave vent to a gasp of terror. “Shut up, you little snotnose,” whispered his unseen assailant. “Just do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt.”