Alex Loria was ready for the decisive basket. His yellow-and-blue jersey was dripping with sweat, his blond page-boy fringe curling over his forehead, above the steady gaze of a basketball player who knew he was about to score.
He was team captain. He’d just drawn two last-minute free throws. The first had gone in nicely. Rim-backboard-rimnet. They were down by only one point. He couldn’t miss this shot.
Alex wiped the palms of his hands on his shorts and then looked straight at the referee as the man passed him the ball. He gave the boy who had fouled him — a student at the school across the street from his — a chilly glance, and focused his mind on the free throw.
‘Let’s nail this basket and win the game. C’mon, Alex, you can do it …’ he whispered to himself, psyching himself up as he lowered his head, dribbling the ball. His teammates stood in silence, tense, ready to lunge for the rebound, while the three regulation bounces echoed throughout the high-school gymnasium. This was just an exhibition match: there were no banners held up by parents in the bleachers, no children with popcorn at courtside. But no one wanted to lose, especially not the team captain.
Suddenly, that hollow feeling. His knees sagged. A chill ran up his spine. His eyes fogged over. While his teammates and adversaries watched aghast, Alex fell to his knees, caught himself with one arm braced against the synthetic floor of the basketball court, and started panting.
He could feel it.
It was about to happen again.
‘Will you please come down for dinner?’ Clara called from the kitchen.
‘Just a second, Mum!’
‘You’ve been saying “just a second” for twenty minutes now. Get down here!’
Jenny Graver puffed out her cheeks in annoyance and shook her head, while she shuttled her fingers around the trackpad, shutting down the various applications running on her MacBook Pro. She looked up at the wall clock. Her mother’s tone made it clear that she would brook no further delays. Jenny stood up and met her own gaze in the mirror over the desk where she studied. Her wavy chestnut hair spilled over her broad shoulders, the shoulders of a professional swimmer. Although she was only sixteen, Jenny could already boast enough medals to fill a trophy case, all of them hanging on the wall in the upstairs hallway of the Gravers’ family home. Her athletic victories were her father’s pride and joy. Roger Graver was a former champion swimmer, and had made quite a name for himself in Melbourne.
Jenny walked out of her bedroom and across the hall to the bathroom to wash her hands. The inviting aroma of roast beef came wafting up the stairs.
Suddenly, that shiver. By now, she knew it all too well. As her eyesight blurred, she took two more steps and made a desperate grab for the edge of the sink, trying to stay on her feet. She felt her body collapse, as if none of her muscles, except for her arms, were capable of responding to her brain’s commands anymore.
It was about to happen again.
Where are you? the voice thundered, ricocheting through the convolutions of her brain.
She heard a few distant whines, sinister and unsettling like sobs echoing from the depths of an abyss.
Tell me where you live …
Mel — Jenny was straining to answer, but the word was cut off halfway.
I can hear you … I need to know where you are.
Every syllable Alex managed to utter was like a needle driven into her skull. The pain was excruciating. The answer came, accompanied by a gust of shouts and infantile laughter. Everything whirled in his head like a tornado, a vortex, an indistinct storm of emotion. But that name had come through intact, reaching its intended recipient.
I’ll find you, were the last words from the male voice, before everything went dark.