OK, it's finally about to go out to literary agents - but is it good enough?
On the morning of my thirteenth birthday I awoke to find that I was dead.
My skin was as cold as death.
My nostrils were filled with the stench of death.
My mouth was full of rottenness.
I opened my eyes and found I could not see.
When I tried to move, I found I could not move.
So I lay, dead.
Cold blackness surrounded me. Time seemed to pass, age after long age, in silence and stillness. I seemed to float, empty and without thought, drifting unthinking until somewhere far away, from some muffled distance, I heard a soft, steady sound. The five chimes of a clock.
Then something unseen scuttled past my head. I felt little claws scrabbling against me. My heart jolted in horror.
It started to beat.
As my heart began to beat, so I began to think. Why is it so dark? Why is it so cold? Why do I smell decay and taste death on my tongue?
I cannot be alive. I must be dead. If I was alive, I could move.
As I struggled to move, my mind struggled, too. Like coming round after an operation or waking after a long illness, suddenly I became aware. And I realised why I could not move. I had been tied up. My arms were bound tightly to my body, my feet were strapped together. I could not see because I had been blindfolded.
I strained against my bonds and tried to shout for help. But I was unable to make a sound. My mouth had been gagged and it was stuffed with something damp and foul. The straps refused to break.
I struggled again, in vain. My heart was pounding, proof that I was alive. Yes, I thought, but like this I might as well be dead.
Then something squeaked in my ear and I felt it move across my body. Horrified, I thrashed from side to side to dislodge the thing. Choking with revulsion and rage, I fought against my bonds, forcing my arms against them, finding new strength. At last, just as I was weakening, I was rewarded with a sharp snap! and then a multitude of cracklings.
In the space of one new heartbeat, I was free.
My arms sprawled out and I clawed at the gag on my face, ripping it away. I spat out the bitter-tasting mess in my mouth. Propped on one arm, I rested, listening to the sound of my breathing. Then I pulled the blindfold away from my eyes.
But still I could not see.
My eyes roamed around the blackness, seeking some hint of light, some detail, but the dark, like the chill, musty air, was all-encompassing.
More questions crowded my head: Who has done this to me? Why? Where am I? Fighting a rising panic, I reached down and grabbed the cords binding my ankles and tore them in two. Then with shaking hands I explored my invisible environment. Beneath me there was a hard, cold surface covered in grit and dirt, but above me I could feel nothing, except perhaps a stray wisp of a cobweb drifting against my fingertips.
My throat felt dry and tight as I tried to call out into the dark. I made a small croak, hardly a noise at all. Swallowing hard, I tried again: ‘Help!’ And again: ‘Help!’ And again: ‘HELP!’
Each cry sounded dull and smothered. I felt sure there was no-one to hear me. I knew I was entirely alone.
I collapsed back into the dust – and my elbow struck something, something which made a metallic sound. I scrabbled for it, clutched at it and realised at once what I’d found. It was a candlestick – and there was a candle in it.
I could have light!
If there were matches.
I hunted around in the dirt with my fingers until they brushed against something else, something small that rattled. I snatched it up. Clumsily, almost feverishly, I fumbled open the box. I felt the matches tumbling from it, but caught one – two – and attempted to scratch them into light on the cold, damp surface below me. It seemed to take an age, but at last they flared up.
I flinched as my eyes reacted with shock to the sudden flame. Blinking, trembling, I raised the matches to the candle-wick. I could hardly control the shaking of my hand as I saw the fire burn down the wood, turning blue, ready to burn my fingers, or go out, as I concentrated on bringing the flame to the candle. It was as if my body and my mind were out of kilter, awkward through lack of use. But the feeble, last blue glow along the thinning charcoal was just sufficient, and as I dropped the matches, the candle took hold.
The intense darkness now gave way to light and I was able to look about me.