The King Herself
Chapter 1 The Girl Who Could Fly
One summer night when he was twelve, Danny Allen had a dream that would change his life forever.
He was standing on a mountain top swirling with cold mist. Nearby was a cliff edge encrusted with icy snow. Danny stood on the ice and peered down. The precipice dropped hundreds of feet into murky cloud, filling him with a sense of doom. The ice cracked. He tried to leap back, but his legs were glued together and he fell.
Half way down the mountainside he came to a stop in the arms of a girl.
‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘I’ve got you.’
He blinked at her. ‘You’ve got me? Who’s got you?’
The girl’s mouth widened into a smile. Her features were oddly familiar – wavy reddish-brown locks, a moonish face, and an olive tan like his own.
‘No one,’ she said. ‘I can fly.’
Danny glanced down and saw that they were indeed hovering in midair. ‘You can fly?’
‘It’s easy. You should try it.’
‘Think yourself into it. Point yourself in the right direction and push off. It’s all in the mind.’
‘Let go of me then,’ said Danny, tensing himself. And that was when he woke up.
He rubbed his eyes and listened to the rain drumming on the skylight. His heart sank: another grey day in Manchester. He wished he’d got to fly in that dream. Superman was his hero; he had a stack of comics as high as his belly button, and all the DVDs, and he’d read or watched each one at least twelve times. The scene he’d just dreamt was his favourite from the first film, the one where Lois Lane falls out of the helicopter down the side of the Daily Planet, only to be caught by Superman swooping up to her.
Except in the dream he’d been Lois, and she – who was she, that round-faced girl? She didn’t look like anyone from school, or the neighbourhood. The only redhead Danny knew was the girl who lived opposite. When they were little they had played together almost every day, but now she was thirteen and had a boyfriend the most he ever got from her was a half-baked smile.
But who needed girls, anyway? Some of the boys in his class had girlfriends, the sports heroes with footballer’s hairdos. With barely a scrap of muscle on his bones Danny knew he could never get a girlfriend. But so what? As far as he was concerned every girl in Manchester could vanish into a black hole, and life would go on.
Danny spent most of that rainy day playing his favourite video game, Ninja Assassins. His mother had threatened to send it back to Japan when she saw its gruesome, photorealistic violence (Danny especially enjoyed the disembowellings), but he was so frantic at the thought of losing the coolest game on the planet that she gave in. He ended up spending half his waking hours on it. But as he played that day, the dream kept popping into his mind. Finally he ejected the disc and replaced it with Superman the Movie. Afterwards Danny fantasised being able to fly like his hero, and he made a wish he would have the flying dream again that night. It was the only way his fantasy would ever come true.
Danny was in a marble hall with a single window near the ceiling. A beam of light made a brilliant white square on the floor. A girl stood in the light, her auburn hair sparkling.
‘It’s you again,’ she said.
‘It’s me.’ He glanced around the walls. ‘I think we’re stuck.’
‘No, we can escape through that window.’
‘I don’t think so. Unless you can fly.’
‘Hey, I can fly, remember. I’ll show you.’
She girdled his waist with her arms, crouched, and pushed; but the only result of this was the strange sensation of having a girl’s arms wrapped round his body.
‘You’ve got to try,’ she said. ‘Jump up, but forget about coming down again. If you see what I mean.’
‘You have to believe you can do it. Anything’s possible in a dream, if you believe it. Try again.’
He squatted, and with the girl’s help leapt up a metre or so, then crashed down again.
‘Show me how you do it,’ he said.
‘It’s the same as Superman.’ She pointed her arms up, shot up to the window, and sat on the ledge. Danny was impressed.
‘What are you waiting for?’ she yelled. ‘A pair of wings?’
It’s just a dream, Danny told himself. All he had to do was will himself up there. With a superhuman effort he jumped high, grabbed the ledge, and pulled himself up next to the girl.
‘Woohoo!’ She clapped her hands. ‘See, it’s easy.’
He was elated. Out of the window he saw a sunlit world of rivers, green hills, and trees. The girl stepped off and soared into the distance. He leapt after her and for a few glorious seconds was airborne, but soon sloped to the ground, and woke up on impact.
Danny’s chest tingled. He’d flown at last. And it had felt real. But why had he dreamt about that girl again?
Danny’s mother Sheila was a nurse at the city hospital. With her sleek copper hair and trendy oval spectacles he thought she looked younger than his friends’ mothers. When she smiled wrinkles showed round her eyes, but to him that was when she was her loveliest. That night they were watching TV and munching toast, each with toppings which the other found disgusting – raspberry jam and banana for Danny, and stinky, mouldy cheese for his mother.
‘A beautiful pair of twins was born today,’ she said. Her northern accent was mild because she’d grown up in the South. ‘A boy and a girl. Idiot mother said she’d really wanted two boys. I told her, I’ll be happy to take the girl home with me, give my son an adorable baby sister. Shut her right up, that did. Danny? Are you listening to me?’
‘Yeah. Mum, have you ever dreamt about someone, a couple of times, but you didn’t know who they were?’
‘Maybe. Probably, yes. Why, who’ve you been dreaming about?’
‘Just some girl. I’ve dreamt about her twice, but I can’t think who she is.’
‘Is she pretty?’
He shrugged. ‘I suppose.’
‘Maybe she’s your dream girl.’ Danny went pink. ‘Or just someone you saw once. Don’t worry, darling, it’s quite normal.’ She brushed his floppy black hair from his eyes. ‘We’ve never really talked about girls, have we? So…’ Her fingers twitched. ‘Is there anyone you like?’
‘No. I don’t get on with girls. They’re not that friendly to me. All they talk about is boring stuff, like clothes, and pop stars, and what boys they fancy. And they ignore me.’
‘You don’t ignore them, by any chance?’
Danny smiled sheepishly.
‘So what do you expect? You have to make an effort, sweetheart.’
‘There’s no point, they’d still ignore me. But that’s okay, I’ve got nothing to say to them anyway.’
‘I should warn you, Danny, you might find your opinions about girls changing sooner than you think. They’re not aliens, you know.’
‘Yes they are.’
His mother chuckled. ‘Believe it or not, I was a girl myself once.’
‘Nah. You’ve always been my mum.’
‘If only,’ said Sheila, giving her son a cuddle.
That night Danny met the girl again. He was sitting on a bench in a lush garden brimming with exotic flowers and trees. A pond dappled with lily pads and yellow flowers lay at his feet. On the far side strolled an old man. The girl came up and sat on the bench.
‘I was hoping to see you,’ said Danny.
‘Really?’ she replied with a coy smile. ‘Why’s that?’
‘You’re my flying teacher. So how about another lesson?’
She frowned. ‘It’s not that hard. You don’t need me to show you.’
‘Oh. Okay.’ He was disappointed.
‘I was wondering,’ she said. ‘I keep seeing you, so maybe you have a name.’
‘’Course I’ve got a name.’
She stared at him. ‘So? What is it?’
‘Oh.’ He had to think. ‘Danny.’
‘Danny. I like that. Mine’s Katy. So who are you, Danny? Are you someone I used to know? Because you don’t look like any of the boys in my school. Or anyone else I can think of.’
‘I don’t know, I’m just a kid. I was wondering that myself, actually – why I keep dreaming about you.’
She laughed. ‘Silly. I’m the one who’s dreaming. I’m the one who’s real, not you.’
He grinned. ‘Prove it.’
‘Prove it? I’m a real person and you’re just someone in my head. How can I prove that? I can tell you about myself, I suppose. I’ve got a house, a family, and a dog. Here he is. His name’s Ben.’
An Alsatian trotted up and licked Katy’s hand. She rubbed his neck and scratched his ears. ‘See? He’s a real dog, and I’m a real girl.’
‘Guess what,’ said Danny. ‘I’ve got a house, and a family, though quite a small one. I haven’t got a dog, but I’ve got a fish. Hang on.’
He concentrated, and a goldfish appeared in the pond. ‘He’s a bit lonely. I should get some more.’ A few more fish materialised. Unfortunately one was a shark, and it ate all the others.
‘Oops,’ said Danny. ‘I haven’t quite got the hang of this.’
Katy gave him a wry smile. ‘All right, matey. If you’re real, phone me tomorrow.’
He laughed. ‘I can try. What’s your mobile?’
‘Um, oh, seven, seven… I can’t remember. It’s too long. Well, I am asleep.’
‘Okay, I’ll give you my land line. It’s four, three, four…’ But before he could remember the rest of it Katy had disappeared.
He woke up in a thoughtful mood. What a weird dream. Why had the girl insisted she was real? Did he want her to be real? He’d dreamt about her three times in a row now. Deep down, did he want a girlfriend? He blew a raspberry and decided to forget about it.
But it was to be four times in a row. They met in the garden again.
‘Danny! I thought about you today. I told myself I was going to remember your number and write it down as soon as I woke up. I know it starts four three four. So go on, tell me the rest.’
He told her. She repeated the numbers to herself, then closed her eyes and shook her head vigorously.
‘Can we fly now?’ said Danny, but to his annoyance Katy vanished again. He decided to try flying on his own. Taking off like a firework he circled over the houses and streets of a strange, foreign town. It was delicious, a pure thrill. Perhaps now he could fly on his own he wouldn’t dream about Katy any more. That was fine with him.
The next day Danny didn’t think about Katy at all until he heard the phone ring. He got a buzz of excitement, but it was only one of his Mum’s friends. He got the same buzz each time the phone rang that day, but each time he told himself he was being stupid, she was just a figment of his imagination. Nonetheless when he went to the shops that afternoon he found himself looking at every young girl with reddish hair, wondering if she was Katy. He wished he had the nerve to ask, but he knew they’d just laugh, or tell him to buzz off.
He went to bed that night with Katy still on his mind, but wishing now he could forget about her. That didn’t stop her popping into his dreams, though.
‘Hey, Danny boy. I tried to ring you again, but you didn’t tell me if it was an oh-two-oh-seven, or an oh-two-oh-eight number. So I called both. One was an old lady and the other was a paint factory, and neither had heard of you. So that proves it – I’m real, you’re not. Pity. But you’re a nice dream friend.’
‘An oh-two-what? What are you blabbing about?’
‘Wait a minute – you do live in London, don’t you?’
She tutted. ‘Silly me. Maybe you are real then.’
‘I keep telling you, I’m real, you’re not. Can we stop going on about it?’
‘Blimey, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Well, I can remember Manchester. I’ll try again tomorrow.’
The next morning was brisk and sunny. Danny decided to enjoy the sunshine, given that Manchester got about three days of it a year, so he called his pals, grabbed a football, and ran out to the park. After two hours of three-a-side, chips and orangeade for lunch, and one and a half hours of samurai sword fighting with sticks, Danny had finally stopped thinking about his dream girl.
When he got home his mother told him to go and scrub himself up for dinner. As he was marching up the stairs she added, ‘By the way, you had a phone call.’
‘Yeah, who was it? Billy? I bet he stayed in bed, the lazy get.’
‘No, it was a girl. From London. She wants you to call her on the computer. What was her name? Oh, here it is…Katy.’