The next morning started the same for Daniel as any other school day. He woke up. He remembered what had happened the night before and sat, stock still in disbelief, his brain hardly able to comprehend the events. A standard morning-after-the-night-before for the majority of teenage boys. What Daniel was remembering, however, was entirely different and definitely not normal for any teenage boy. Realising you'd gained power over electricity and lightning since you were struck in a thunderstorm generally didn't happen every day- or at least Daniel thought, that was a fair assumption to make.
He got out of bed, changed into his school clothes and went downstairs to get himself a bowl of cereal, trying to act normal and not look like he was equal parts freaking out and terrified over what was happening to him. He'd already decided that telling his family was not an option; what if they freaked out or didn't let him go outside, or made him go to a different school… and then what if people at school found out? They'd laugh at him and call him a freak and then the scientists would flock to Sevenoaks, all desperate to try and cart the lightning boy off to their facilities to perform experiments on him like he was a lab rat.
A couple of minutes later, George appeared in the kitchen looking bedraggled and still half asleep. The boy moved zombie-like to the fridge to get the milk out before realising it was already on the table. He put his favourite cereal into a bowl and added the milk before almost pouring apple juice on top of it.
Daniel put his hand out and clasped his brother's hand, preventing him from tipping the carton any further. "I'm not sure apple juice-flavoured cereal is going to be the best thing to wake you up."
George blinked a couple of times and the tired fog lifted a little. "Oh yeah." He grinned sheepishly and poured the juice into a small glass instead. "Thanks, Dan. So are you feeling any better?"
Not really thought Daniel- he was still running an abnormal temperature, but he felt less uncomfortable than he had yesterday, as if knowing the reason behind it was helping him become accustomed to it. Not that that was any comfort in itself. "Yeah I feel fine today."
"Maybe the flu thing is going away then," said George hopefully.
"I don't have the flu, I've just got a temperature!" said Daniel sharply. George's face fell and Daniel realised how harsh he sounded. "Sorry. That was out of order, I shouldn't have said that. I just don't understand what's happening to me… why I've got a temperature that's all."
"It's okay," said George. "I'd be pretty frustrated too, if it was me."
Thank God it's not you thought Daniel silently as he put his bowl in the sink. He moved into the living room to tell Serafina he was going to meet Mike now, then grabbed his school bag, slung it over his shoulder and left the house.
The walk to school was easier than Daniel had feared, as Mike began talking about how Maisie was doing and that she was starting to eat small portions of food again now and before he realised it, they were talking normally the way they always did, and any awkwardness Daniel was worried about due to trying to keep his new secret never materialised. In fact, the only awkward moment that whole day happened when they were walking with Ellie and Amy to a lesson in the morning and he reached out for the banister out of habit and then quickly flinched away- all three of them were in front of him touching it, as well as several other students on the staircase, and he was pretty such electrocuting them wasn't the way to keep his power a secret. Yeah, sure the first time it had only been a little bit of static, but how did he know it would be the same this time? He'd not had any problems controlling his powers so far, but what if he wasn't concentrating and he ended up hurting someone? It wasn't until that moment that the dangers of having such a power really hit him, and for most of the next lesson he took notes absentmindedly, barely registering what the teacher was saying as the same thoughts ran round and round his head.
"Mike?" whispered Ellie. "Is Daniel okay? I've jogged him several times now but he doesn't seem to be noticing anything."
"He was fine this morning," Mike whispered back, puzzled. "I can usually tell when something's bothering him, but he's seemed perfectly normal until now. He's not generally very good at hiding stuff, or at least from me, so I don't know what's wrong."
"Odd." Ellie frowned and looked over his shoulder. The notes he was making were pretty much exactly what the teacher was saying, but he didn't seem to be focusing on them, as if his mind was a hundred miles away. She reached out and touched his hand with her fingers, trying to bring him back.
"Ow!" She hissed and jerked her hand back.
"Everything okay over there, Miss Waters?"
"Yes, sir," she replied hastily. "I just gave myself a paper cut, that's all."
She heard a snigger from the other side of the classroom and knew Jake and his friends were probably laughing at her, but she didn't care. She carefully ripped a square of paper from her notepad, scribbled on it and held it out to Mike behind her back.
Daniel's skin is really hot. I mean, unusually warm, enough to hurt me when I touched it. I haven't got any burn marks, but it's like he's running a temperature. Do you think he might be really ill, and that's what he's not telling us?
Yeah, maybe, although if it's something like that then why doesn't he tell us? He knows he can trust us.
Amy motioned for Mike to pass her the piece of paper and she added her own note onto the end before passing it back to Ellie.
Could it be because he doesn't want to go back into hospital? Maybe he's scared?
Possibly. Although if he's that badly ill, his parents wouldn't let him come into school, so it can't be too serious. Maybe he just picked something up in the hospital. He'll probably be OK again in a few days. And I think Mr Johnson's noticed us writing, so we'd probably better stop.
When the bell rang at the end of the lesson, Daniel blinked as the shrill noise broke him out of his reverie and looked down at the work he'd done in his book. Whoa, he couldn't remember ever through so many equations in one lesson before. He'd have to go into auto-pilot more often; maybe if he kept working like that he'd be top of the class by the end of the year.
Yeah, right he laughed to himself as he packed his books away and followed Mike, Ellie and Amy out of the classroom to the canteen. They sat down at their usual table and Daniel pulled out his lunch and began eating. After a couple of bites of his sandwich, he realised the others were looking at him.
"What?" he asked after he swallowed his mouthful of food.
They glanced at each other. "Daniel, are you alright?" asked Mike hesitantly.
"Of course I am," he replied, surprised. "Why?"
"Don't be offended or anything, but you seemed very… distant during Maths today. None of us could get a word out of you- it was like your mind was on another planet. It was kind of scary, actually."
"Oh, sorry," said Daniel, giving a small laugh. "I must've been daydreaming, you guys should have given me a nudge or something."
"We did," said Ellie meaningfully. "Several times."
"Oh." He frowned.
"Yeah, I even touched your hand," she added. "If you're not very well, why didn't you just tell us rather than hide it?"
"What do you mean, not very well? I'm fine," said Daniel, but it was already dawning on him what they meant. They'd realised how hot his skin was…
Mike snorted. "Then why does your skin feel so hot when we touch it?"
"I don't know," lied Daniel. If only we'd had this conversation a few days earlier- then I'd be telling the truth he thought. "I haven't felt ill at all- I haven't had a headache, or been sick, or felt dizzy or anything. Trust me; my parents already checked. I've just had a temperature lately, but I don't know why."
"Oh." The three of them sat there, puzzled.
"You didn't pick anything up in the hospital?" asked Amy.
"Not as far as I know," replied Daniel. No, what you've 'picked up' happened before you got into hospital said a snide voice in his head. Mike is your best friend; you've known Ellie for years; Amy seems trustworthy enough, so why don't you tell them? Too scared of what they'll think of you? Is that it? Daniel gritted his teeth- the stupid voice only made him feel even guiltier for keeping a secret from them. But what was he supposed to do? What if he scared them off? What if telling them only put them in worse danger? But surely if they knew you'd have more reason to try and control it? Shut up! He told himself angrily.
"Well, we can always try searching for something on the Internet," suggested Ellie, looking at the others. "Is it uncomfortable?"
"It was at first, but I've got used to it now," Daniel told them. There, at least that part was the truth.
"We'll all try and help you out, mate," said Mike. "It might just go away in a few days." Daniel couldn't help noticing the optimistic tone to his voice. I doubt this is one thing that's just going to go away. Besides, it's not even an illness. I don't know what it is, or why I've got it. Was it purely an accident, or is there something more? I can't exactly call it a talent; it's just something that happened. Boy, I'm more like Spiderman than I thought. Except he got bitten by a spider, and I got struck by lightning. If only there was a real Peter Parker that could help me through this.
"Thanks," he said to his best friend; privately, he felt hollow knowing that nobody could do anything about it. Giving his friends false hope that this was something that could be fixed made him feel even worse, and feeling guilty only reminded him of snapping at George that morning. He'd never snapped at someone like that before and it terrified him. Was it just stress that had made him act like that, or were his powers changing him in more ways than one? He shook his head and sighed. "We'd better go to lessons so we're not late." The others nodded and got up to follow him, all three silent in contemplation as they watched Daniel walk ahead of them with his head bowed and his hands shoved firmly into his pockets.
He looks like he's trying to stop himself touching anything. Ellie frowned; where on earth had thought come from? But now she thought about it, Daniel's stance reminded her of the way she herself used to walk when she was with Jake's gang- keeping her arms close to her sides and desperately avoiding any sort of physical contact with them, her body language reflecting the way she wanted to be out of the group. But what harm could he do by touching things? He's not hot enough to burn a person and inanimate objects aren't generally caused pain by being hot. I've got to try and find something that'll help this evening.
The next day at school, Ellie admitted with some reluctance when they met up before lessons that she hadn't been able to find anything useful last night. "The only reasons for having a temperature it came up with were overexposure to heat, to the cold or rain, or having the flu, a cold, or something like pneumonia or tonsillitis. You haven't had any of those, have you?"
"I was out in the rain in the back garden once with Max," admitted Daniel. "I got soaked, but I already had a high temperature by then and that was partly why I went out there, to try and cool off."
"Oh." Ellie chewed her fingernail. "Well it must just be a random thing that'll go away then. Otherwise I don't know what to do. Are you sure you shouldn't get it checked out by a doctor?"
"No! No way." Daniel softened his tone hastily. "I don't feel ill and there's no reason wasting their time over something that's probably just temporary."
"Okay, if you're sure…" Ellie said uncertainly. "I've just got to go to my locker and get something, I'll be back in about five minutes."
"Okay," agreed Daniel.
However, as soon as she disappeared, somebody who had been leaning casually against a block of lockers further down the hallway pushed off them and stood behind Daniel.
Daniel turned round to see Jake standing behind him, a smug expression with a hint of anger on his face, his arms crossed and his legs far apart in an attempt to look threatening. If he had been the same Daniel he was a few weeks ago, he would have been terrified, but things had happened since then. He'd survived a lightning strike, going into and out of a coma in the process, rekindled his friendship with Ellie and discovered he could control lightning. Those things tended to give a person more confidence in themselves and realise that life could throw worse their way than a big-headed, swaggering school bully. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"What do you want, Jake?" Even though he knew exactly why the boy was here.
Jake's expression changed and his mouth became a heavy-set line, his eyes hardening as he glared at Daniel. "I want to know why you feel it necessary to steal people's friends."
"Sorry, but I don't remember ever doing that." Perfectly calm.
"Idiot! You know exactly who I'm talking about! You stole Ellie away!"
Excuse me?" Daniel snorted in laughter. "I stole her away? I think you'll find that Ellie left your group of her own accord because she couldn't stand being around you and your friends any longer. Trust me; she didn't need anyone else's help to do that."
"Yes, but then why would she choose you losers to come and sit with? You must have done something, persuaded her to leave somehow!"
Daniel bridled a little bit but kept his annoyance in check. "If you remember, at the time Ellie left your group I was actually in hospital in a coma," he said in a brittle tone. "So how do you suggest she was communicating with me to arrange that if I was unconscious?"
"Your idiot friend Mike then!" snapped Jake.
"Mike never knew Ellie until I introduced her to him. As a matter of fact, me and Ellie were best friends at primary school and when she heard I was in a coma she came to visit me at the hospital. It was because she was there when I woke up that she and Mike met."
"I don't care," responded Jake angrily. "You idiotic losers don't deserve friends like Ellie or Amy and I want them to come back to my group now."
Daniel laughed humourlessly. "Sorry, Jake, but in the real world, I want doesn't mean you get it. We have to earn the right to be friends with decent people like Ellie. And I'm not forcing her hand; if she chooses to be with us, she can stay, and if she wants to leave then that's her choice."
Jake's face flushed bright red and he spat at Daniel's feet. "You'll regret crossing my path, Manera. You and your sad little friends. Trust me, you're welcome to that pathetic, attention-seeking little bitch. She always was a slut anyway." He turned away.
Daniel had been working to keep his newly-volatile temper under control and he'd thought he had a handle on it, but Jake's parting words sent it over the edge.
"How dare you!" he shouted at Jake's back. Several students stopped to stare at him; those that recognised Jake and knew of his reputation as a bully gasped and backed away or wore looks of admiration.
Jake turned around, eyes raw with anger as he encountered something he'd never previously experienced- somebody standing up to him. Daniel's vision took on a red hue at the edges and he clenched his fists, feeling like he could punch Jake.
But before he could take a step closer, the light above his head flickered and went out, followed by one further down the hallway, just past where Jake was standing. Students screamed in alarm and grabbed onto friends as they were plunged into darkness. A teacher came bustling forward, yelling for everybody to stay calm. Daniel froze and the anger disappeared fast like a receding tide before a wave strikes. He turned and moved quickly, squeezing past panicking students until he reached the door. Pushing it open he reached a lit hallway and walked away fast, thinking about what he'd just done and not where he was going.
"Daniel!" He stopped and looked up to see Ellie, Amy and Mike waiting for him on the stairs. "Where did you go? We got worried."
"Jake tried to pick a fight with me after you left," explained Daniel. "Then a couple of the lights blew in the hallway and everyone started panicking because it was pitch black."
"Really?" asked Mike, interested. "Do you reckon it was a fault with the electricity or something?"
"No idea," shrugged Daniel as calmly as he could, but inside his stomach was doing somersaults. There was no mistaking it- it couldn't be a coincidence. The moment he'd gotten angry at Jake, two lights had blown out. Even if he hadn't done the same by accident in his bedroom, it would've been obvious that it had been him. Right now he felt like running home and burying himself beneath his duvet, away from the world, but he couldn't just skip school. His friends would get suspicious and his parents would crucify him. He walked up the stairs and followed them to class, his mind, once again, completely elsewhere. If he could do that just by getting a bit angry at Jake, then what else was he capable of? What if something worse happened and he lost control again? What havoc could he end up causing? He could see the headlines: Boy struck by lightning loses his temper and destroys a whole town. If he could create miniature bolts of electricity just by thinking about it, could he create real lightning too? Maybe I should just run away and live in some deserted cave for everyone else's safety. A cave in the middle of Sevenoaks? Yeah right. There are plenty of woods around here though; nobody would find me. But what would I do for food and water? I can't run away, so I'll just have to try and control my temper a bit more. Maybe practising with my powers would be a good idea- somewhere isolated. Either that or risk them going completely haywire and blowing up more than just a light bulb. He sighed as they entered the classroom and sat down between Ellie and Mike at their usual desk. He felt like banging his head on the table. Why did life suddenly have to get so complicated?
That evening, a dark-haired boy in jeans and a hoodie left Number 13 Mill Lane at midnight. If anybody had been around to see him, they would have watched as he ran across the road, out of Mill Lane, across another road to the playing field where the park was and disappear into the trees at the other side. If anybody had been around to see him, they might have wondered what kind of suspicious activity a teenage boy could be engaging in so late at night and followed him. Then again, if somebody was out late enough to see Daniel running across the park to the woods on the other side, what kind of activity were they partaking in to be out so late?
Daniel stopped and leant back against the trunk of a tree for a moment, breathing heavily. He didn't think anyone had seen him sprinting across the park. Then again, most sensible people were asleep at this time of night. Once his breathing returned to normal and his heart had stopped pounding, he pushed off the tree and began walking, keeping alert and scrutinizing the forest around him as he walked. When he was younger he'd heard tales of a clearing in the middle of these woods which was difficult to find and the few people who did find it rarely ever found it again. His grandfather had told him that you always knew you were going the right way if you found a tall oak tree with an arrow carved into the bark. The only problem? There were an awful lot of oak trees in Sevenoaks- hence the town's name. Now that he thought about it, it seemed almost ironic. Sevenoaks had got its name from the seven oak trees that stood near the town centre, but now there were less- was it five or six?- because one had been struck by lightning many years ago. He wasn't sure what had happened to the other one.
Daniel had been sure his grandfather had been going to tell him something else as well, another sign that you were going the right way, when Serafina had interrupted and scolded her father for filling Daniel's head with fairy stories. That had been many, many years ago and Serafina's father was now in an peoples' home due to developing Alzheimer's four years ago. Luckily, he still recognized Serafina and Alex, and he'd known Daniel and George last time they'd visited, but Daniel knew his mum was terrified of the day when she would go and her father would no longer know who she was. It must be horrible to watch someone you love slowly disappear like that thought Daniel sadly. Maybe soon he would go and visit his grandfather with Serafina, to give her some company. His own accident had also made him realise how lucky he'd been, and that he might not have many opportunities to see Grandad again before the disease overtook him completely. A lump formed in Daniel's throat but he swallowed and forced himself to stop thinking about it. He suddenly realised that he must have been wandering aimlessly for almost half an hour now, and he was about to turn round and try to find his way back home when his eyes focused on something in the distance. He frowned and began running towards the tree directly in front of him. He stopped and reached out to touch its bark- the trunk was thick and sturdy, and acorns littered the ground at his feet, so this was definitely an oak tree. Hardly daring to breath, he looked up and sure enough, about three feet above his head, was a vertical notch in the tree with several lines extending from it either side to form the head and tail of an arrow. He moved around the tree and continued walking forward until the trees began to thin and he emerged into a grassy clearing, lit by moonlight and roughly in the shape of a jagged square.
This was perfect. As long as he could find his way back here, it was isolated enough for him to practice his powers as much as he liked. He contemplated beginning now, but then he glanced at his watch and his heart almost missed a beat. It was almost two 'o' clock in the morning! He grabbed a couple of fairly large rocks from the ground and placed them either side of the path marking the entrance to the clearing, then began running as fast as he could. If his parents found out he'd been out this late at night they'd be furious, and they'd begin asking him all kinds of awkward questions… how was he meant to explain to them where he'd been? Especially without revealing his powers? His feet slid on the slippery ground when he forgot to slow down for an incline and he almost lost his balance, but he grabbed the branch of a small tree, steadied himself, and carried on running for home.