When 13-year-old Elissa wakes as a prisoner in a cellar underneath the Memory Wood, she immediately begins to plot her escape. 12-year-old Elijah has lived in the Memory Wood for as long as he can remember. It’s the only home he’s ever known. When Elijah stumbles across Elissa in her underground cell, Elissa knows he may be her one chance at survival, but first, she’ll have to make him her friend. So begins a cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal that will determine both their fates…
Read on for an extract from The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd!
The Memory Wood
The first thing I notice is not the girl but the candle – its flickering yellow flame. It’ll reveal me if I’m not careful, so quickly I raise my torch, aiming its beam at her eyes. It’s unkind but unavoidable – until I know more about this newcomer and her nature, it’s vital that I protect myself. I still remember the time I was attacked in here, in the days before the iron ring.
The girl flinches from my light. Then she steadies herself and lifts her chin. Her eyes, narrowed against the glare, are as vivid and green as polished emeralds.
She’s nothing like I expected.
They never are.
Silent, I play the beam over the rest of her. My skin tingles as I follow the light. This pause before speaking is magical, a spell I’m reluctant to break. Here, at the start, so much of our relationship is unexplored. My knowledge of her – our knowledge of each other – is limited purely to what we see. And so far, blinded by my torch, she sees nothing at all.
Those green eyes draw me in. Considering them, I want to believe that this time will be different, that everything will turn out all right, that I’ll be able to save her from the future she’s been dealt.
Her black hair is mussed, damp where it touches her skin. She has what Magic Annie would call Celtic features: high forehead, sharp nose and chin. Her skin is pale, but whether that’s natural or because of what’s happened to her, I can’t tell. She’s a little older than me: perhaps a year, perhaps two.
When I spot the manacle on her wrist my heart nearly breaks. Blood has dried in a crust around a deep wound just above it. More blood, fresh and glistening, seeps between the clots. I wonder if she was trying to free herself. If so, she won’t have any luck – not unless she smashes her hand to a pulp and pulls it, wet and flaccid, through her restraint.
Flaccid is the word for a body part hanging loosely or limply, especially if it looks gross.
Silent a moment longer, I cast around the room. I see the buckets, fresh candles, a matchbox. There’s a wet patch on the floor, near the stinky pillow. The air smells bad. Wrinkling my nose, I try to ignore it. To do otherwise would be rude.
‘Hi,’ I say, returning my torch beam to her face. ‘What’s your name?’
The girl’s green eyes flare. Her jaw drops open and she scrambles up. It’s obvious she was expecting a different voice. I can only imagine the thoughts now rushing through her head.
‘I’m Elissa,’ she croaks. ‘Elissa Mirzoyan. Please – get help. Before he finds you here.’
I’ve discovered, in these first moments, that it’s wise to hold a few things back. I’m not deceitful by nature – at least, that’s what Mama says – but trust is built gradually or not at all.
‘Before who finds me?’ I ask, taking a forward step. I’m still in the safe zone. If she rushes towards the light, the chain will pull her up short. I hope she doesn’t try it. The damage to her wrist would be terrible. More importantly, I want this – us – to work.
Her throat bobs. ‘I don’t know. I was in Bournemouth. A chess tournament. He pulled me into a van. Drugged me, brought me here, put this thing on my wrist. Please – it’s not safe. You’ve got to go before he gets back, call the police and tell them I’m here. That you found me, Elissa Mirzoyan, that I’m alive, that I was taken by a man driving a white van with a skull sticker on the bumper, a skull with a hat and a cigarette.’
Her shoulders sag. She sucks in a shuddering breath. CHILLAX, I think, and wince.
‘Are you hurt?’
She shakes her head. ‘Not yet. But something bad’s going to happen. Unless you get me out.’
I adjust the angle of my torch. ‘Your wrist—’
‘It’s nothing. Just a gash.’
‘It’s more than a gash. All that blood—’
‘Seriously, there are worse things. Can you—’
‘My name’s Elijah,’ I say, and flinch. I hadn’t meant to tell her so soon. ‘How old are you?’
She blinks, those green fires extinguished then relit. I know she wants me gone, running through the Memory Wood with her message, but she isn’t panicking. Not yet.
‘Thirteen,’ she replies. ‘I’m thirteen years old, and my name’s Elissa Mirzoyan. M-I-R-Z-O-Y-A-N. I live at six, Cloisters Way, in Salisbury. My mum’s name is Lena. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember all that. Please, just go. Call the police and bring them down here. Tell them Elissa Mirzoyan – that you found Elissa Mirzoyan and she’s alive.’
I nod, even though she can’t see past the beam of my torch. ‘You might be a year older than me,’ I tell her. ‘But Magic Annie says I have a pretty high IQ. I promise I won’t forget you. Not ever.’
I see from her reaction that it’s a misstep. Something in her expression changes. She draws her injured wrist to her chest.
‘Where am I?’ she asks.
‘I know that. Where?’
‘A cellar. In the Memory Wood.’
‘The Memory Wood?’
‘That’s what I call it. I don’t think it has a real name. Least not one anybody remembers.’
She frowns at that. Tries to process it. ‘How’d you find me?’
‘I was playing. Outside. Thought I’d come down here and explore.’
‘You live close?’
Elissa screws up her face. ‘Could you turn off the torch?’
Her question, like so much of this meeting, catches me off guard. If I do as she asks, the candlelight will reveal me, and that’s not something I can allow. I want to save her, but I have to protect myself.
‘I… don’t like the dark,’ I tell her, my cheeks growing hot. It’s true enough, but it isn’t the main reason for my reluctance and so is still a fib of sorts. I hate dishonesty, especially down here. And yet sometimes the truth of a thing is best avoided. At least for a little while.
I watch the rise and fall of her chest. Everything about this feels so finely balanced.
‘Will you help me, Elijah?’ she asks.
‘I want to.’
‘Will you go, then? Get the police? Bring them back here so they can release me?’
A few weeks ago, my word of the week was tenacious. It suits Elissa perfectly. If I’d been blessed with an older sister, I’d want one exactly like this. I’m so overcome with admiration that for a while I have to look away. I focus on the candle as its flame bobs and weaves.
Once I’ve mastered my emotions, my attention returns to the girl in chains. ‘If you’ve only just arrived,’ I ask, ‘then why do you want to leave?’
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