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Read an extract from Monochrome by Jamie Costello

Part I


It starts the day after they take Mr Kowalczyk.
I saw the officer helping him into the car and, even though I’ve never actually met him, that night I dream about it. Mr Kowalczyk, the police and the people in the street are puppets with enormous round wooden heads, bobbing along on strings. Mr Kowalczyk is wearing a black suit and tie, like he had in real life, but just before he bends to get into the back seat, he turns his head right round so it’s almost back- to- front, and stares straight at me with his gigantic painted eyes.
Then the officer slams the door with a colossal bang and I wake up. It takes a moment to realise that the bang wasn’t in the dream but an actual noise – the sickening sound of a massive car crash. Judging from the direction, it’s somewhere near the traffic lights at the big junction.
I’m already imagining it as I stumble out of bed to look out the window: buckled metal and showers of red sparks as firefighters cut people out of the wreckage, like at the beginning of the hospital drama series my grandma watches on TV. I’ve no idea why Prune – short for Prudence, which she hates – likes them, because she used to be a nurse and all she does is complain about the stuff they get wrong.
When I pull back the curtain, I can’t see anything at all outside. It takes me a moment to realise that’s because none of the streetlights are on. Odd, because it’s just before dawn. I can already feel it’s going to be hot, though, like it’s been every day for the last five weeks – the kind of heat that turns grass brown and cars into ovens, when you can’t touch metal. It seems to be killing the birds, too, because I keep seeing sad little corpses in the gutters and under trees. Ladybirds like it, though; they’re everywhere. I’ve even found them in my underwear drawer. Prune says it’s a record heatwave for London in July.
I can hear shouting, so someone’s gone out there, thankfully, and I hear Rusty – Prune’s partner – clomping down the stairs and
swearing about how he can’t find the torch.
I’m expecting to hear sirens and see flashing blue lights any minute, but nothing happens. I keep on peering through the window, and after a while I start to see the fuzzy outlines of the houses across the road, and the trees and hedges – dark grey, but getting more distinct in the gloom. There are grey streaks lighting the sky, too, and – this is when my stomach lurches – a huge lead coloured ball rising up on the horizon like some alien dark force that’s poisoning the air.
For a split second I truly think I’m having a nightmare, that the bang only jolted me from one dream into another. Sometimes you can know that you’re dreaming from inside the dream, and make yourself wake up.
This is not one of those times. I reach for the switch on my bedside lamp, but nothing happens. ‘Mum!’
No answer.
Where is everyone?
I stumble downstairs in darkness, imagining the air choking the streets just outside.
I hit the hallway light switch. Nothing. And where is my family? ‘MUM!’
I charge through the dark kitchen, swearing as my hip slams into the corner of the table, and out through the front door. I dash down the steps, round the corner into the front garden and full tilt into Mum coming the other way.
‘Grace! Calm down. Everything’s OK.’
I stare across the grey grass. The air seems OK, but in the quarter- light the trees are gnarly and sinister and the flowers look pale and slimy, as if they are growing and decaying at the same time. ‘But what’s happened?’
‘There was a car accident. Prune and Rusty went to see if they could help.’
‘The other thing.’
‘What other . . . ? Oh, the electricity. It’s gone off, so I just got this—’ she holds up a big torch ‘—from the shed. Hey! Come on . . . ’ She pulls me into a hug and rubs my back. ‘Oh sweetie, you’re all shaky. Deep breaths, OK? This isn’t like you.’
‘Stop it!’ I try to wriggle free, but her arms are like clamps.
‘Mum, we’ve got to—’
‘Shh, it’s OK . . . it’s OK.’
I let her hold me, face pressed into her shoulder, away from the familiar street that suddenly looks so eerie, then force myself to look again.
It’s getting lighter, and the edges of things are becoming sharper.
The sky’s changed from soot to charcoal, and now it’s turning a sort of pebbly colour. The clouds look as if they’re boiling over, like milk.
The fact that Mum is calmly rubbing my back, as if nothing is wrong, might be the strangest thing of all.
‘What’s happening, Mum?’
‘Nothing, love. Or nothing that can’t be fixed.’
‘Then what’s that?’
I break away from her and point at the lead- coloured disc emerging from a layer of cloud that’s drifting away in long lines like smoke.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘That’s the sunrise.’ She laughs. ‘Happens every day. You never see it because it usually takes a chisel to get you out of bed in the morning.’
‘But it doesn’t make sense.’ I rub my eyes – gently at first, then quite hard. ‘Where are all the colours?’