Paternoster Tales: Chapter 20

Underground

Two hundred and forty nine miles of tunnels is a lot of tunnels to search for a missing little girl. Silas wanted to boast that in less than a day his waifs had accomplished just that. They had been from one end of the tube system to the other. They’d looked on platform benches, in case she had fallen asleep. They’d searched loos and offices and lost property shelves. They’d looked in cafes and shops and on escalators and in lifts. They’d traversed every carriage of every train. And no trace of Agatha had been found.

What Silas could confirm was that she had, as hinted at before, got off the train at Holborn station and that perhaps two things had made her do so – the first was that she probably thought the blue trench-coated woman was her mother and the second was that she lives near Holborn Station and always … or as always as every Monday morning was always … got off the train there. Where she went after she exited the station, however, was unknown.

Do you understand the meaning of supercilious and sneering? If you know one of those words, it is probably sneering – the nostril flaring, teeth baring, sharp-eyed staring, snarling grin that boasts I know more than you and I also know that you know I know more than you and I’m stronger than you and I pride myself in being deeply unpleasant and cruel. Supercilious means all of those things too, but in supercilious, they are laced with an air of righteous superiority that believes all others are inferior and in want of the plainest speaking in order to make them comprehend your very individual intellect and recognise your vital and supremely important needs. Silas was both sneering and supercilious – as if he was building a golden throne, high on an elevated stage, beyond reach of the station platform and its smog and damp and cold. He needed me to see his success. He needed his success to scald me; to slap me across the face with the sudden realisation of my grossly, inferior status.

It was perhaps a mistake to sneer back.

If a waif can jump, which is something we rarely do and therefore have little skill in doing, Silas executed the biggest leap I have ever seen. Although, some claimed later that he fell off his throne. A sneer was absolutely not what he had expected from me. And it upset him. When I say upset him, what I mean is … well, imagine an underwater bomb suddenly going off and picture the sudden spume of water and foam flying into the air, and the pulsating waves of water flooding out from the epicentre. Picture the energy in that explosion and you will understand why I fell over. Which was unfortunate, because falling over meant Silas caught me. Of course, I don’t mean caught me the way you do – no hands holding a shoulder or arm locked round a neck; we can’t do that. No, he trapped me; got in my way. And one waif must never pass through another waif. Theoretically, I guess it is possible, but there’s an unwritten law which says it would be a violation that would force the Disappearing of both waifs. It wasn’t something I was prepared to risk.

I lay on the station platform waiting for Silas to decide what to do with me. The sign above the platform glowed orange – the next train was due in three minutes. The stomach I didn’t have started to tie a noose.

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