Chapter One

A Cryer for Help

Grass crunched underfoot as she walked across the small park. It had been unusually cold, even for December, and the frost had lasted all day. Everything looked as if it has been sprinkled with icing sugar. Too cold to snow, the news had said. Elizabeth Cryer assessed the scene in front of her. It certainly didn't look as urgent as the police officer had sounded on the phone, interrupting her Christmas meal with her parents. But then, for the Paranormal Liaison Officer to be called on Christmas Day it had to be something pretty big. The house was a typical two-up-two-down. Garage on one side, gate to the back garden on the other. Two police cars were sat quietly outside, lights off, and a couple of officers at the garden gate were chatting in low voices. They sounded relaxed, waiting to go back to their families.

Elizabeth nodded past them as they recognised her and waved her through, and she stepped over the threshold of the open front door. More officers milled about in the hallway. She could see through to the sitting room, where a mundane greying couple on the sofa were being handed cups of tea by a female officer, while another police officer on a squishy armchair next to them took notes on what the man was saying. They both looked slightly shell shocked, though Elizabeth distinctly heard the words "Christmas miracle" come from the woman's lips.

"Cryer" a clipped voice said above her. Elizabeth looked to her right and saw Detective Jim Branson halfway down the stairs towards her. He wore his usual trench coat over his plain clothes. His black hair had specks of what looked like tinsel in it. Branson seemed the sort of man who lived for his job, and imagining him celebrating Christmas seemed completely foreign to Elizabeth. He held out a hand to her and Elizabeth shook it, using her other to pull her hood down and tease her dirty blond hair out from under her coat. "We've got a boy up here. Looks approx twelve years old. Appeared out of thin air on the Godfreys' dining table just as they were sitting down for dinner. Ruined their turkey apparently." Branson's lip twitched.

"Appeared from where? Under the table?" asked Elizabeth as she followed him up the stairs. "Merry Christmas, by the way."

Branson grunted to show he had heard the seasonal greeting. "Thin air. Above the table. Mr Godfrey says he saw a bright light - thought the light bulb had blown - and suddenly the boy was there, falling onto their food."

Teleportation then, thought Elizabeth. But purposeful, accidental or forced? "What happened next?" she asked out loud.

"He scarpered. Straight across the hall and up the stairs. Mrs Godfrey eventually found him in their son's old room. He died in Helmand a year ago. The boy is sat under the son's desk and refuses to move. Won't say a word, won't let anyone near him."

"Is the boy-?" Elizabeth began, before Branson cut her off.

"I know what you're thinking. He's not their son, no. Looks completely different." Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. She hadn't expected Branson to make the link as she had, let alone ask the Godfreys what their son looked like. Then she realised there was a photo on the wall over Branson's left shoulder, of a proud young man in a green beret.

Branson ushered her down the landing. Two female police officers were stood outside a doorway, sharing a bag of Maltesers. One shoved it in her pocket hurriedly as she realised Branson was heading their way.

"No change, sir," said another, her mouth full of chocolate. She swallowed. "Won't say a word to us. Don't even know if he speaks English! Hasn't moved neither. He just watches. With those eyes." Elizabeth couldn't tell whether she said the last part in fear or fascination. She stepped around them all with difficulty on the cramped landing, and squeezed into the room.

It had a sad air. A mournful tomb that they (and Elizabeth counted herself amongst they) were all desecrating by traipsing through. Probably the only people to set foot in it after his death. There was a small layer of dust on the book shelves and bedside table. The room itself was very neat. Orderly. Military. There was a single bed by the door. Blue bed covers tucked in underneath, just like a soldier would. There was an old fashioned desk under the window. A chunky desktop computer and printer filled it. She could see her blurred face reflected through the dust on the screen, cheeks still bright against the cold outside. Elizabeth's eyes wandered underneath the desk.

There was a boy, squeezed in, half hidden behind the wheeled chair, hugging his legs. He was wearing a grey t-shirt, black trousers and military style boots. His skin was tanned, with a Mediterranean quality to it. She could glimpse a gold chain under his collar. His hair was a honey brown colour, just long enough to begin curling. Elizabeth could see the remains of a turkey dinner on his shoulder. All in all he would have had the posture of a scared rabbit. If it weren't for the eyes. The striking grey eyes, tinged with green, watched her with the intensity of a crouching wolf. She felt as if he were seeing into the depths of her being.

"Hello," Elizabeth said. She tried to be as calm and reassuring as possible. "My name is Elizabeth, Elizabeth Cryer. What's your name?"

The boy looked at her. Looked through her.

"You've given everyone such an exciting Christmas, appearing out of nothing like that!" Elizabeth smiled, but the corner of her mouth wobbled nervously. "Don't worry - you're not in trouble. I can do things like that too! But the big question is, if you've appeared here, where have you disappeared from? I'm sure your mum and dad will be looking for you to start their Christmas dinner! And I'm sure you'll have lots of great presents to open back at home!" Elizabeth took a step forward, past the bed, bending down to his level.

The boy flicked a hand out and she was stopped by an invisible wall. Interesting.

"You may have a Gift," said the boy after a pause. His voice was low, almost a growl. Elizabeth heard the capitalisation in his words. Behind her, she heard Branson and the others stop muttering in the corridor and pay attention. "But you are nothing like me."

And in a flash of light, he was gone.