Every teen has dreams, but only Joe Knightley can make his dreams reality. Even the nightmares…
There can be only one Dream Master.
Joe has been falling asleep everywhere, and he has enough on his plate with wrangling his wayward best mate, suppressing the urge to murder his little sister and facing off with Charlie Meek, the knife-wielding bully who makes school a misery for so many.
Joe does not need the discovery that he can make his dreams come true. At first, turning a classroom into an aquarium and conjuring up a Lamborghini are amusing ways to use this new power. But Joe soon realizes he’s roused an enemy far deadlier than Charlie Meek.
Drawn into a duel with a being who has had centuries of experience, Joe must fight for everything he cares for. But deciding exactly what he holds dear is perhaps the biggest battle of all.
Reader Advisory: This book contains references to violence, drug use and scenes of a mild sexual nature.
General Release Date: 7th June 2016
A late lesson on a damp November afternoon… Joe had already had sports and maths, psychology, English and French. He was shattered, especially after having walked away from so much aggro from bloody Charlie Meek during break and lunch. His classroom was dark and sweaty. There was no need for blinds—none of which worked anyway—but the windows were moist with condensation, and the room was quiet, apart from the hum of the projector and numerous teenage jaws masticating chunks of gum.
Joe was trying to stay awake. He liked looking at Mr. Crosbie’s pictures, and these were strange—full of intense, somber colors. There were snowy scenes marred by the blood of children being killed against sunsets gleaming through bare branches, crucifixions with crowds of blokes looking as though they’d come from the pub after a heavy Saturday night then contorted bodies surrounded by flying fish and walking rats with hats and curled mustachios. That couldn’t be right. He squinted, but the familiar heaviness of his head and eyelids assailed him. He pinched himself to stay awake, but the heat was too much. Even the discomfort of the creaking plastic chair couldn’t stop him from drifting away from the classroom and into the deepest sleep.
Then he opened his eyes. Something had woken him. He looked around and recoiled. Every student in the class had a fish head—wispy catfish whiskers over suckery open mouths, barracuda jaws, weird mola mola fins where their hair ought to be, a couple of trout with delicate little teeth and tongues. They all had those glassy eyes, just like it said in recipe books—bright, moist, black eyes. They were breathing air. Then it seemed to occur to them that they were breathing air and that, technically, they couldn’t.
Their sucky mouths gaped, fishy lips opening and closing faster and faster. They began bumping into one another, blundering about, their bodies still human but their brains too small to govern those bodies. Then they revolved with the swirl and drive of a shoal of mackerel in the sea, no longer threshing, now turning on Joe with glazed stares—glares that turned from accusation into threat. They were an exact copy of the fish in that slide of Crosbie’s.
Joe scrambled out of his seat and stood by the door. One of the fish-people stepped forward, then another, and they came at him. He raised his hands to fend them off then the first one reached him. He felt its fishy lips puckering and flapping against his palm. It was real. He wrestled with the door handle then fell into the corridor, slamming the door as he left the room, only to hear the sodden thump of a fishy nose against the wood. He slumped against the wall. The fluorescent lights were bright, and there was a chilly draft from the fire escape that had been left open by someone making a break for freedom after period seven. An English teacher was approaching, but he took forever to reach Joe because with every step, the corridor got longer.
“Joe Knightley, isn’t it? What are you doing out here?” Mr. Tucker’s voice was distant. “You look as green as this wall. Hey, Joe, are you all right? Joe, grab my hand, quick.”
But Joe didn’t have time to take Mr. Tucker’s hand, because he’d been absorbed into the wall and was now trapped in the layer of mesh and plaster, gasping like the fish in Mr. Crosbie’s room. The teacher was running his hands over the wall, calling his name over and over. Then Joe disintegrated and melted right through it, back into the classroom that was full of water like the fish tank at the fishmongers where they kept lobsters. Now the classroom was awash and the fish people were swimming around and around and around, their bodies still in their school uniforms, all of them chasing after one another until they became a shoal like in a documentary—swooping, splitting, dipping and recombining. Joe swam to the window to check his reflection. He had a human head, which meant he would drown if he stayed in the fish tank.
Mr. Crosbie was there, still showing slide after slide, but he was wearing scuba gear, apparently unfazed by the transformation of his habitat. Joe swam to a window and wrestled with it. He pushed up the lever handle then took hold of the catch to ease it open. Water started gushing out, and Joe pushed his head free, taking long gulps of cold air. He turned around as water cascaded around him. The fish-people pressed up against the window and tried to flap it shut, but the volume of water was too great, pouring out and out and out onto the ground. Fortunately for Joe, fins weren’t equipped to close windows. Mr. Crosbie waded through the water, still thigh-high in the classroom, and he flicked on the light. Everyone turned to look at him. They shook their heads in bafflement and in the whir of movement, one by one, they regained their normal heads, although these were now soaked, causing some dismay among those who’d used gel or mousse to maintain their favored hairstyle.
“Joe, I know Hieronymus Bosch can seem a bit strange, but he doesn’t normally cause my students to chunder out of the window. Have you quite finished?” Mr. Crosbie took off his aqualung and diving mask.
“I wasn’t being sick, sir. It was the water.” How can I explain? It started as a dream…then somehow I made my dream actually come true. They’re going to think I’ve gone bonkers. I think I’ve gone bonkers, but it did happen. It really happened. My dream came true. No way I can say that out loud.
“Give him a detention, sir,” urged several girls, their hair hanging in limp rats-tails. “Go on. He pinched the condoms from last time and used ’em to make water bombs. It was him. We saw.”
His friend Smokey spoke up. “How can you have seen anything? Anyway, look around you. There isn’t any evidence.” Smokey’s tone was customarily derisory. “Witless bimbos.”
The girls turned as one on Smokey. “Give him a detention an’ all, sir. Go on. He’s abusing us. That’s bullying that is, calling us bimbos. Go on, sir. Give him one.”
“Smokey, Joe, get out of here before the lynch mob gets you. And Joe, try not to nod off in next week’s lesson.” Mr. Crosbie nodded at the boys. As they left, Joe heard him address the hyena-like hoydens surrounding him. “Now, girls, where’s your sense of humor? What sort of fish did you turn into, Kaylee? A monkfish, I think—not particularly attractive but very tasty grilled with a saffron sauce.”
As they came out, Mr. Tucker was waiting outside the classroom with the school nurse, pointing at the wall and saying, “Look. He was standing here, then the wall just sucked him up.” The teacher closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the wall, as if fighting off tears.
The nurse looked understanding and patted him on the shoulder. “I think you should see someone about this, Mark. Really I do. Look. Here’s Joe Knightley now. Everything all right, Joe?”
“Yeah, fine, Mrs. Naismith.”
“You see, Mark? Joe’s absolutely fine. He’s been in Mr. Crosbie’s classroom all this time. Learn anything useful in PSHE this week then, Joe?”
“Not really.” Joe burrowed into his rucksack for the brochure Crosbie had handed out. It was sodden and disintegrating. He offered it to the nurse. “Here. It’s about how to be a town councilor, I think.”
“Off you go then, Joe. And is that Silas with you?”
No one was meant to call Smokey by his given name, but Joe could see that he was too keen to ask Joe what the hell was going on to make a big issue of Mrs. Naismith’s slip. Joe let Smokey hustle him down the corridor and out of the building before anyone else could interrupt.
“So?” Smokey stopped as they rounded the corner of Ashgate Way and sat down on someone’s garden wall.
Joe bit his lip. “So what?”
Smokey reached into his jacket for his cigarettes and lighter. With disgust, he took one sodden fag out of the packet then scrunched up the whole squelchy mess and tossed it into the garden behind him. “Four quid down the drain. So why did we all grow fish heads, and you didn’t? If it hadn’t been for you, we’d all have been swimming around there for the next week without anyone noticing. Mind you, it was quite cool being a piranha. I was just about to give Lisa a little nibble, then you came along and opened the window.”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand anything.” Joe shook his head. A flurry of movement caught his eye, and he hauled Smokey away as an irate woman emerged from the house on whose garden wall they were sitting. She yelled at them, snatched up Smokey’s crumpled cigarettes and hurled the pack after them with a force that should have earned her a place on the Olympic javelin team.
“Don’t do that again, you little sods!”
Smokey made to turn around so he could tell her to eff off, but Joe was still tugging at his sleeve, determined not to let things get out of hand. Smokey shrugged then went back to the fishy business.
“What do you mean, you don’t understand?”
“I was asleep. I just woke up, and it’d happened. Wasn’t Tucker looking sick as a parrot? That was worth it. Weird though. Could you breathe? What was it like when the water came in?”