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Chuck didn’t think his mum would ever stop talking. She was in tears as soon as she heard his voice and no matter what he said she wouldn’t stop interrupting him. He was just outside Victoria station, trying to calm her down before travelling to King’s Cross to start the journey home. He couldn’t tell if she was pleased to hear his voice or angry about being missing for a week. He’d decided, while travelling through the tunnels with Fiona, that he would say he was mugged and went into hospital with no ID, so they didn’t know who to contact. Thankfully, he’d left his phone at a friends house, so once he’d woken up and been discharged he was able to go to his friend’s house and collect his phone and make the phone call. His friend didn’t even know the phone was there, so he hadn’t seen the missed calls and was just as worried about him as everyone else was. Chuck wasn’t sure if that’s how it would work in reality, but it made enough sense in his head to explain everything. He just hoped there wouldn’t be further questions.
There wasn’t time for questions though. Chuck found out that his parents had called the police. He was found on CCTV until he wasn’t. They thought it must have been a glitch and there was some footage that was lost. His parents had actually travelled to London to try and find him. They’d been in contact with everyone possible, and no one had seen him. To answer this he told them that he was with a new friend, Fiona, who he hadn’t known for that long so hadn’t mentioned her before. The conversation went around in circles for what felt like a long time.
“I’m so sorry for worrying everyone,” he said eventually once everything started to slow down.
“I’m just glad you’re alive. I didn’t know what happened to you. None of us did. We haven’t slept. Where are you now? We’ve been staying with your auntie Pearl. Do you know how to get there?”
“Umm, I’m near Victoria station, that’s close to where Fiona lives. I think I know how to get to Pearl’s flat.”
“Okay. Come straight here. I’m going to call everyone and let them know what’s happened. I’m so glad to hear your voice.”
“I was so scared.”
“I know, mum. I’m sorry.”
“Just come here, please. I’ll put your dad on as well, so you can speak to him. He was so worried about you.”
“Okay, thanks mum. I’ll see you soon. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay Chucky, I’m just happy that you’re here. You can tell us more about what happened later. Here he is.”
Chuck’s dad was the only person to call him by the name that was on his birth certificate.
“It is you. I can’t believe it. What the hell happened?”
Chuck repeated the story he’d told his mum almost word for word, but with less interruptions.
“Are you okay now though?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Just a little shaken about everything. I can’t believe how long it’s been.”
“Just get here as fast as you can. Your mother has been beyond worried. I can’t believe they didn’t find you. One of the first places the police told us they looked was the hospitals. We went from hospital to hospital as well. It doesn’t matter now. At least you’re okay.”
“I’ll get there as quickly as I can and I’ll see you all soon.”
With that Chuck hung up the phone, his heart pounding. He looked at the other missed calls and messages he’d received on his phone and decided it wasn’t the best time to try and answer all of them. He knew how to get his aunt’s house, not that he wanted to put the effort in. He always hated being the centre of attention and this was no exception. As he walked through the busy Victoria station, looking to get to the Victoria line, he wished he could just go home. There would be so much explaining to do with everything. So many people fussing over him and asking what happened. He didn’t even know if he still had a job to go back to. What if no one had told them he was missing, and they assumed he’d quit. Among the missed calls would surely be his boss with several warnings before confirming he was being terminated. He slinked through the various passageways, dreading everything and wishing there was some way to get out.
He made his way onto the northbound platform and sat down on a bench. It was loud around him, although the platform wasn’t busy. There were still a few people scattered about. His phone told him it was a little past eight in the morning, but it didn’t feel like morning. Surely there should be more people around getting ready to go to work, he thought. The train approached and came to a stop, completely empty. Chuck moved into place and stood close to the doors as he waited for them to open. Almost instinctively he stood to one side to let others gets off, even though the train was empty. He stepped onto the train and made his way to a middle seat, expecting the carriage to fill up pretty quickly. One other person got on through the same door that he did and sat on the opposite side from Chuck. They didn’t look at each other as the doors closed and the train started to squeal and screech as it pulled away from the station.
“Do you think they won’t notice?” The other passenger said.
Chuck looked around, just to check that there wasn’t anyone else on board. Then he looked at the other person. He was wearing jeans, and a hoody with a cap sticking out from under the hood covering his face. Chuck assumed that he must be talking to someone on the phone. He focused on the ground in front of him, trying to mentally prepare himself for having to face family after everything that’s happened. An ice-cold sting made its way from the base of Chuck’s neck down his back and out through his legs, as he realised that the other passenger couldn’t possibly be talking on the phone. He looked over at them, but they hadn’t moved at all.
“Do you think they won’t notice?”
“Sorry, are you talking to me?”
“Who else would I be talking to? We’re alone down here. I’ll ask again. Do you think they won’t notice?”
“Who? Notice what?”
Chuck could feel his pulse quickening.
“Your family. Do you think that they won’t notice that you don’t have visible injuries?”
“Normally when someone gets attacked and ends up in a coma for a week they have some kind of visible injury. A scar, a scab, a bruise. Something to show that they’d be attacked so brutally. Don’t you think they’ll notice you don’t?”
The entire time the man spoke, he stayed perfectly still. Chuck was frozen in place as he listened, and he couldn’t see a single feature of the stranger’s face.
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
“I’m telling you that someone will see through your lie. Maybe not today. They’ll all be glad you’re back. But they will eventually. They’ll notice it doesn’t add up. You’ll slip up and then further questions will be asked. No one will believe the truth, of course, but they’ll still ask questions. It will become something unspoken between you all, where they all discuss it when you’re not there to try and figure out the truth. It’ll drive them mad in a way.”
“I… I’m not sure.”
“Ha. Don’t worry about trying to explain it to me. I know where you were. You were at my academy. I saw you enter the tunnels with Fiona and the new boy. I’m Arthur, and I’m sure that name means something to you.”
“What? You know that everyone’s looking for you?”
“Of course they are, but I’m kind of busy at the moment. I have a favour to ask of you. I have something that I want to ask you. I want to do it in person, if that’s okay. Before then, I want you to go to Churchyard Primary School with Fiona. She’s already on her way there now and I want you to help her. After that I’ll meet you at Whistling and we can talk.”
“No, I’m already in a big enough mess as it is. I need to go and see my family.”
“That’s fine. You can do that if you want. This isn’t an open invitation, by the way. If you don’t come now then you won’t ever hear from us again. You’ll go on with your life and time will pass and eventually you’ll think this was all a dream. That’s fine by me, if it’s fine by you. It’s up to you.”
The world around Chuck started spinning, twisting into itself. It felt like he was being dragged out of water. The other person on the train disappeared and then the train itself was distorted into a void and he was sitting back on the bench on the platform, people moving around and getting ready for the train to arrive.
To Be Continued…
Part twelve is available here: https://ashleymanning.com/2023/03/10/magic-in-london-enrolment-part-twelve/! Don’t forget to subscribe to never miss a post:
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