A boy walked past. At first, Scarlett barely registered him. He was in the shadows at the side of the church, between the columns and the side-chapels, moving toward the altar. He made absolutely no sound. Even his feet against the marble floor were silent. He could have been floating. She turned to follow him as he went, and just for a second, his face was illuminated by a naked bulb hanging on a wire.
She knew him.
For a moment, she was confused as she tried to think where she had seen him before. And then suddenly she remembered. It was crazy. It couldn’t be possible. But at the same time, there could be no doubt.
It was one of the boys from her dreams, one of the four she had seen walking together in that gray desert. She even knew his name.
It was Matt.
In a normal dream, Scarlett wouldn’t see people’s faces — or if she did, she would forget them when she woke up. But she had experienced this dream again and again over a period of two years. She’d learned to recognize Matt and the others almost as soon as she was asleep and that was why she knew him now. Short, dark hair. Broad shoulders. Pale skin and eyes that were an intense blue. He was about her age although there was something about him that seemed older. Maybe it was just the way he walked, the sense of purpose. He walked like someone in trouble.
What was he doing here? How had he even got in? Scarlett turned to a girl who was sitting close to her, drawing a major explosion from the look of the scribble on her pad.
“Did you see him?” she asked.
“That boy who just went past.”
The other girl looked around her. “What boy?”
Scarlett turned back. The boy had disappeared from sight. For a moment, she was thrown. Had she imagined him? But then she saw him again, some distance away. He had stopped in front of a door. He seemed to hesitate, then turned the handle and went through. The door closed behind him.
She followed him. She had made the decision without even thinking about it. She just put down her sketchbook, got up, and went after him. It was only when she reached the door that she asked herself what she was doing, chasing after someone she had never met, someone who might not even exist. Suppose she ran into him? What was she going to say? “Hi, I’m Scarlett and I’ve been dreaming about you. Fancy a Big Mac?” He’d think she was mad.
The door he had passed through was in the outer wall, underneath a stained-glass window that was so dark and grimy that the picture was lost. Scarlett guessed it must lead out into the street, perhaps into the cemetery, if the church had one. There was something strange about it. The door was very small, out of proportion with the rest of St. Meredith’s. There was a symbol carved into the wooden surface — a five-pointed star.
She hesitated. The girls weren’t supposed to leave the church. On the other hand, she wouldn’t exactly be going far. If there was no sign of the boy on the other side, she could simply come back in again. The door had an iron ring for a handle. She turned it and when through.
To her surprise, she didn’t find herself outside in the street. Instead, she was standing in a wide, brightly lit corridor. There were flaming torches slanting out of iron brackets set in the walls, the fire leaping up toward the ceiling, which was high and vaulted. The corridor had no decoration of any kind, and it seemed both old and new at the same time, the plasterwork crumbling to reveal the brickwork underneath. It had to be some sort of cloister — somewhere the priests went to be on their own. But the corridor was nothing like the rest of St. Meredith’s. It was a different color. It was the wrong size and shape.
It was also very cold. The temperature seemed to have fallen dramatically. As she breathed out, Scarlett saw white mist in front of her face. It was as if she were standing inside a fridge. She had to remind herself that this was the first week of November. It felt like the middle of winter. She rubbed her arms, fighting off the biting cold.
There was a man sitting in a wooden chair opposite her, facing the door. She hadn’t noticed him at first because he was in shadow, between two of the torches. He was dressed like a monk with a long, dirty brown habit that went all the way down to his bare feet. He was wearing sandals, and a hood over his head. He was slumped forward with his face toward the floor. Scarlett had already decided to turn round and go back the way she had come, but before she could move, he suddenly looked up. The hood fell back. She gasped.
He was one of the ugliest men she had ever seen. He was completely bald, the skin stretched over a skull that was utterly white and dead. His head was the wrong shape — narrow, with part of it caved in on one side, like an egg that had been hit with a spoon. His eyes were black and sunken, and he had horrible teeth that revealed themselves as he smiled at her, his thin lips sliding back like a knife wound. What had he been doing, sitting there? She looked left and right, but they were on their own. The boy named Matt — if it had even been him — was gone.
The man spoke. The words cracked in his throat, and Scarlett didn’t understand any of them. He could have been speaking Russian or Polish . . . whatever it was, it wasn’t English. She backed away toward the door.
“I’m very sorry,” she said. “I think I’ve come the wrong way.”
She turned round and scrambled for the handle. But she never made it. The monk had moved very quickly. She felt his hands grab hold of her shoulders and drag her backward, away from the door. He was very strong. His fingers dug into her like steel pincers.
“Let go!” she shouted.
His arm sneaked over her shoulder and around her throat. He was holding her with incredible force. She could feel the bone cutting into her windpipe, blocking the air supply. And he was screaming out more words that she couldn’t understand, his voice high-pitched and animal. Another monk appeared at the end of the corridor. Scarlett didn’t really see him. She was just aware of him rushing toward them, the long robes flapping.
Still she fought back. She reached with both hands, clawing for the monk’s eyes. She kicked back with one foot, then tried to elbow him in his stomach. But she couldn’t reach him. And then the second monk threw himself onto her.
The next thing she knew, she was on her back, her arms stretched out above her head. Her legs had been knocked out from underneath her. The two men had grabbed hold of her, and there was nothing she could do. She twisted and writhed, her hair falling over her face. The monks just laughed.
Scarlett felt her heels bumping over the stone-cold floor as the two men dragged her away.
Excerpted from NECROPOLIS: Book Four of The Gatekeepers © Copyright 2010 by Anthony Horowitz. Reprinted with permission by Scholastic Paperbacks
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