My sister is late. I check my phone again and sigh, sick of being jostled by the human stream pouring in and out of the tube station. Where is she? I only have an hour for lunch.
“Martha!” I startle as she materialises beside me. “Where the hell have you been? We won’t get a table in Mulligan’s at this rate.”
“Stuff Mulligan’s,” Martha wheezes, darting her head this way and that. She seizes my arm. “I want you to come and see something in the art gallery.”
“The art gallery? It’ll take too long to get served in there.”
“No, not to eat,” she said, propelling my protesting self along the street. “We’ll get a sandwich afterwards. You have to see this picture.”
I blow out my cheeks, and shuffle from foot to foot.
“This is it? This is why you dragged me here?”
“Look closer,” Martha says. “Look at the boy.” She points, and I see a small tatty boy painted with saucer eyes, clutching a grubby teddy.
“I keep seeing him,” she jabbers. “I’ve seen him in the street, in the office, even at the bottom of my garden.”
I sigh. I love meeting her for lunch on Fridays, and she’s spoilt it. There’s no time now, and I’m not in the mood for this.
“It’s true,” she squeaks.
“Oh for god’s sake Martha,” I let slip my temper’s leash. “I can’t believe you’ve wasted lunch for this. You don’t keep seeing some figure from a crappy painting.” I turn to leave. “You’ve always had a stupid imagination.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the office, of course. It’s too late for lunch.”
But later I leave my desk, and sneak to the toilets, clutching my phone. Casting furtive glances over my shoulder, I lock the door, and dial with shaky hands.
“Martha? It’s me.”
“Megan! Are you okay?”
“No.” I gulp to quell the panic rising in my throat. I want my big sis to tell me everything is alright, that it’s just a stupid trick.
“You’ve seen him, haven’t you?”
“Everywhere.” Hell, he was even standing by the photocopier, clutching his horrid teddy, his wide eyes staring at me, unblinking. Fear pounces. My voice cracks. I can’t speak.
“Megan, let’s got back to the art gallery. It closes at six; meet me there after work.”
Our heels clatter up the marble staircase, and we totter into the gallery. The painting is there, innocuous, unremarkable. We walk up to it, and look. Martha gasps. I gawp. There is no boy with a teddy. Where he stood, there is nothing, only a painted street with busy people rushing by.
We look at each other. Martha’s dark eyes are wide in her chalky face. I try to speak, but I can only stutter stammering sounds. I’m trying to say we need a drink, when she grabs my hand. I freeze. Hairs on my neck shudder. There is someone behind us.
We swing round. It’s the boy and his teddy. We step back. He is standing looking at us, his huge eyes riveted, unblinking. He steps forwards. I cannot move until Martha yanks my arm, and then we fly for the door, and I daren’t look back.
(Yes, I know that's a rubbish ending, but it can't end there! I love this story so much, I'm going to have to write a longer version. Watch this space![but don't hold your breath...])