We are delighted to be celebrating Darren Simpson’s latest book, The Memory Thieves, in the VIP Reading blog, as well as sharing an exclusive chapter extract from the book. Don’t forget to enter our Twitter competition, with Usborne, to win 1 of 5 copies of the book.
When I was approached by Usborne to be part of the blog tour, I jumped at the opportunity and not just for the reason that Darren’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet in the ‘book world’. Darren supported VIP Reading since its infancy and was one of the first authors to agree to being featured on the website. We both share a common goal in wishing to encourage empathy in children through stories.
I first met Darren back in 2019 to discuss his debut, Scavengers, which is an intriguing story combining a love of adventure, mystery and science fiction. Set in what feels like a dystopian world, a young boy, called Landfill, must live his life in accordance with a set of rules designed to supposedly protect him. He soon realises that there are life-changing consequences to breaking these rules. This book was very well received in the reading community and praised across the board. When I shared this book with my Year 6 Class, we couldn’t put it down!
Darren’s immersive descriptions, varied pace and gritty action, helped to inspire some brilliant writing from my Year 6 class at the time.
Fast forward to August 2021, we are yet again about to experience another thrilling adventure story based around the very relevant theme of memories, in particular trauma. Having discussed this with Darren recently, this theme is quite timely for children with the way children have been affected during the pandemic. Darren described the book as, ‘a book about the risks of repressing your emotions and fears, and the importance of sharing and talking about them, especially with friends and loved ones.’
We hope you enjoy this chapter extract from The Memory Thieves. This is Dose 10 in the book, and a really suspenseful scene!
The Memory Thieves
Cyan and Jonquil took the sandwiches from their packed lunches and munched in silence. They were on the chasm’s sandy base, perched on some dining chairs pilfered from the Serenity.
It wasn’t long before the second raft hit the ship’s bow. When Teal and Ruby reached them, Ruby gave Cyan’s shoulder a wallop.
“There wasn’t a stairwell,” she grumbled. “I checked, after we spent ages dragging our raft out of that pool. You cheated.”
Teal took a seat. Cyan straightened his glasses. “All’s fair in love and…races down giant shipwrecks.”
“No, it’s not.” Ruby’s scowl sent dark freckles gathering around her nose. She kicked a rusty basket at the centre of the ring of chairs, then began filling it with wood from a mound of broken furniture. “I see you didn’t get the fire going. You know the first one down’s supposed to do it. And yet you never do.”
“Um…” All moisture left Cyan’s mouth. He pushed his chair further back from the metal basket, and watched uneasily while Ruby used a lighter and some rolled-up menus to get the fire started.
Flames were soon rising. Cyan kept his eyes off the fire, but could feel its heat against his hands and face. His shoulders tensed with every pop from the crackling wood and he took deep, discreet breaths to steady his heartbeat.
What was left of his sandwich sat untouched on his lap. The smoke had killed his appetite and his throat was too dry to swallow. But he noticed Jonquil peering at him, so he put the bread back to his mouth, doing his best to hide his unease.
The four friends sat in silence, until Jonquil used her toe to nudge a fish skeleton half-buried in sand. “Animals,” she sighed.
“Hm?” Cyan eyed what remained of the fish.
Jonquil tipped her head back and gazed at the grey sky framed by the chasm’s mouth. “It took me a while to figure it out – what’s missing. There’re no animals on the island. Not even birds. The sky’s always so quiet. I haven’t seen a single creature since I got here.”
Teal’s lips curled into a playful smile. “There used to be loads. ’Til Cyan scared them all off with his driving.”
Cyan’s eyes were rolling. “Hardy har.” He looked at Jonquil. “Ignore him. There’s never been animals here.”
“But isn’t that weird?” asked Jonquil. “To have no animals around? Not even bugs or something? All I’ve seen here is bones and shells.” Her forehead creased. “There’s something sort of…dead about this place. Don’t you think?”
Cyan frowned at the frail, crystallized skeleton. “Probably something to do with the sea being gone. You know, ecosystems and all that.”
Teal nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. That’s probably it.”
Jonquil didn’t look convinced. “No. Ecosystems exist anywhere. Life always finds a way. But not here. Here on the island there’s just… There’s just us.”
Cyan was struggling to tear his gaze from the dead fish’s eye socket. Each crackle from the fire sent him deeper into its darkness, and he found himself thinking again about the message in cabin 7270.
A sniff from Jonquil. “Guys,” she began. “I can call you friends now, right?”
Sure,” said Ruby. Teal and Cyan nodded.
“In that case…”
Cyan managed to look up. Jonquil was kneading her knuckles. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I know it’s not allowed, but I was wondering whether you guys would mind if…if perhaps I talk about what happened to me. You know. Before I came here.”
Three pairs of eyes widened. Teal tensed, pushing himself into his chair’s backrest.
“No.” Ruby’s voice was firm. “Sorry, Jonquil. You know we can’t do that.”
Jonquil shrugged meekly. “I know. But—”
“You’re not allowed to talk about your past,” interrupted Cyan. “No one is. It’ll compromise your treatment. You might even compromise our treatment.”
“But no one has to know,” insisted Jonquil. Tears were gathering on her eyelids. “I just feel like…like I need to let some of it out. There are things I need to say.” Her voice thickened. “Things I need to share…”
Cyan threw his palms up. “Don’t do this, Jonquil.” His heart was racing again. He’d never been in this situation before; no one had ever tried to talk about their past. But he knew the rules. He’d have to alert the sanctuary if Jonquil kept going. And he wasn’t allowed to listen.
The legs of Ruby’s chair scraped backwards through the sand. Teal had a hand on the side of his seat and was raising himself from its base. Sweat glistened on his forehead. His chest began to quake with panicked breaths. “The rules…” he croaked.
Jonquil saw them all shifting. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Please listen,” she croaked. “It happened months ago, just after Diwali. My mum was—”
Teal was the first to flee. Jonquil stopped when Cyan and Ruby followed suit, knocking back their chairs and sprinting in separate directions.
Cyan made a dash for the Serenity. He glanced over his shoulder, saw Ruby and Teal running for a rocky mound.
Jonquil was alone by the fallen chairs, revolving on her feet to watch the trio scarper. “Come back!” she wailed. “Pleeeeease!”
But the three of them kept running.
Cyan crouched in the shadow of the Serenity’s keel. He peered around its edge to see Jonquil staggering back and forth, unsure which direction to run in.
“Mum was driving us home!” she screamed. “Me and my sister! My beautiful little sister…” She fell to her knees but continued to wail. “Mum was in a bad mood ’cos we’d—”
Cyan threw his palms over his ears but could still hear Jonquil’s dull screeching. He pushed an ear against his shoulder and used his free hand to yank his locket from his trousers. After thumbing it open and pressing its screen, he held it to his mouth and panted, “Disclosure! It’s Jonquil! Disclosure!”
He made out a few words that flew from Jonquil’s direction – something about an argument – and thrust the locket into his pocket before slamming his palm back against his ear.
Cyan wasn’t sure how long he’d been waiting before swells of wind began racing along the chasm. The air pulsed and howled, and he peeked around the keel to see Jonquil standing rigid with her back to him, her long hair flailing in the gale. Up above, the sanctuary’s helicopter appeared at the chasm’s mouth.
Its steady descent whipped up a storm of salt and sand. Cyan could only just make out Mr Banter as the helicopter’s side door opened.
Jonquil backed away through miniature cyclones. Mr Banter stepped out casually, brandishing something in his hand. Cyan squinted through whorls of yellow and white. It was some sort of cartridge; rectangular, plastic and pale.
Mr Banter aimed the cartridge at Jonquil and a long needle sprang from its top. Its thin metal winked in the helicopter’s lights.
Jonquil screamed and turned, but Mr Banter was too quick. He leaped forward and smothered her head in his giant forearm.
A surge of sickness hit Cyan’s stomach. The violence of Mr Banter’s grip sent him out from cover, and as he ran to Jonquil he saw her eyes – wide and white with terror and betrayal – fall upon him.
He continued to run with his arm stretched towards her, and cried out when Mr Banter plunged the needle into her neck.
The screaming stopped. Jonquil stiffened, then dropped to hang limply from Mr Banter’s arm. He dragged her into the helicopter and slammed the door shut before it rose through sand and shadows.
Cyan fell to his hands and knees. His chest heaved and his ribs felt brittle against his hammering heart.
With the helicopter tilting and soaring above them, Teal and Ruby emerged to join him. Ruby’s face was rigid with shock. Teal watched the helicopter’s tail disappear. He hugged himself tightly, trembling with emotion.
The drone of rotor blades faded, leaving only empty sky.
The Memory Thieves is available to buy now – don’t miss it!