Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Daisy Cooper and the Sisters of the Black Night (Daisy Cooper: International Schoolgirl)


Image of Robert DeeWhen you're twelve years old and want to travel the world as a reporter for International Schoolgirl magazine you'd better be able to prove you can find a good story at home first.

Budding reporter Daisy Cooper finds the perfect school when she wins a place at the brilliant but eccentric Darlington School for Girls. With maths classes that involve
poker games, science lectures where pupils fire rockets and biology lessons that take place in a real zoo it is everything she could have wished for.
The school is also home to International Schoolgirl, a magazine that sends specially chosen pupils - International Schoolgirls - on adventures across the globe in search of groundbreaking stories. To travel the world as a reporter is something Daisy has always wanted and she dreams of being chosen.

Daisy begins an adventure closer to home, however, when she gets lost in the school maze one evening and stumbles across the mysterious Sisters of the Black Night - a hooded secret society that meets under the cover of darkness. Convinced The Sisters are up to no good Daisy enlists the help of her dorm mates - the 88ers - to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s an adventure that takes her through ancient pirate diaries, shark infested tunnels, perilous sword fights and on motorcycle chases through the stormy English countryside. When Daisy finally discovers The Sisters’ dark secret she has to make the most difficult choice of her life: having the job she always dreamed of, or doing what’s right.
 

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EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE : THE MOSAIC
The bomb in the briefcase was ticking. The timer was at thirty seconds…Twenty nine…Twenty eight…Daisy Cooper - green eyed, burgundy haired and barely five foot in plimsolls - burst through the door onto the roof. She ran across the tiles scattering pigeons into the air. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the two men in dark suits closing in behind her. The edge of the roof was only a few feet ahead. There was no time for second thoughts. Daisy could hear pupils and teachers in the music wing below singing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” blissfully unaware that there was a bomb about to go off above their heads and make them very unhappy. As a bullet whizzed past her ear Daisy leapt from the rooftop, hung in the air for a giddying moment and then landed with a roll on top of the school gym. She heard a cry behind her and with a quick glance saw that one of the men in dark suits hadn’t been quite so lucky. Unfortunately, the other one had. He landed a few feet behind Daisy, a twisted smile on his face. Even more unfortunately, the black helicopter had appeared behind him and was fixing the sights of its machine guns on her. It was not a good way to end your last year of junior school.

Daisy got to her feet. A bullet tore through her cardigan as she ran along the metal frame down the centre of the skylights, trying to ignore the gasps from the girls in gymnastics below. With a deafening whirring sound the glass around her erupted as bullets from the helicopter machine guns tore through it. The gym girls ran for cover screaming. Daisy jumped to one side and ducked behind an air vent, clutching the suitcase bomb to her chest. Over the roar of the helicopter blades and the whizzing bullets she could hear the approaching feet of the man in the dark suit. Daisy swung the suitcase out low, catching him in the shins. With a surprised gasp he fell forwards and toppled over the roof into the school swimming pool. Daisy looked at the briefcase. Ten seconds…Nine…Eight… A shower of tarmac exploded next to the vent.

“Perilous,” muttered Daisy.

Closing her eyes she took a couple of deep breaths, jumped out from behind the vent and threw the suitcase bomb with all she could up towards helicopter. 

“DAISY COOPER!”

Daisy snapped out of her daydream. Mrs Drooper was staring at her over the top of her beaded glasses. So was everyone else in the class.

“Well, Miss Cooper, I’m so glad you’re back with us.”

There were titters amongst her classmates.

“Sorry, Mrs Drooper,” said Daisy.

She felt herself blush.

“Of course, we all know how much you want to be a big reporter,” continued Mrs Drooper, “Maybe you’d rather go and interview the pigeons instead of doing science...”

The titters turned into laughter.

“No, miss.”

“Oh, how lucky for us!” said Mrs Drooper walking down the rows towards Daisy, “Well perhaps you’d like to answer my question and tell the class what the boiling point of water is?”

Daisy looked at the class. The class looked back at Daisy.

“It depends,” she replied.

Mrs Drooper opened her mouth wide in mock surprise. The hairs around her lips twitched.

“It depends! IT DEPENDS!”

Mrs Drooper leant on Daisy’s desk.

“Tell, Me, Miss Cooper, on what does the boiling point of water depend?”

Daisy stared up into Mrs Drooper’s eyes. She had that nagging voice in the back of her head telling her to be quiet again but couldn’t help herself.

“It depends what planet you’re on,” replied Daisy.

Mrs Drooper’s face froze for an ugly moment. Then her eyes turned to thin slits.

“OUT!”

 

Mr Kane turned his pen slowly in his big hands as he looked at Daisy across the desk.

“Daisy, what am I going to do with you?”

“It’s not my fault!...”

Mr Kane held up his hand for her to be quiet. He picked up the report note from Mrs Drooper.

“It says here that you were sent out of class for...insubordination and smart talk. Again.”

“That’s not true!”

“DAISY. Please let me finish.”

Mr Kane stood up and looked out of the window.

“This is a busy school, Daisy. A London junior school. I have over five hundred pupils to look after every day so why do I seem to spend so much time looking after you?”

Daisy looked down at her feet.

“What is this insubordination and smart talk Mrs Drooper is talking about?”

“I really don’t know sir. She…I mean Mrs Drooper… asked me what the boiling temperature of water was and I said that it depends.”

Mr Kane frowned.

Uh Oh, thought Daisy, here I go again.

“What would it depend on, Daisy? Water boils at 100 degrees.”

“Well, on Earth it does. It’s different on other planets.”

Mr Kane thought about this. Daisy lowered her head.

Here comes the detention, she thought.

Mr Kane started to chuckle.

“Oh, Daisy. Let me give you a piece of advice. You’re the smartest girl in your year but you don’t know a thing about when to talk and when to keep quiet. If you don’t learn that, you’ll be getting into trouble long after you leave here, no matter how clever that brain of yours is. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I do hope so.”

Mr Kane gave Daisy an hour’s detention. She had to write ‘I MUST NOT SMART TALK’ over and over on the blackboard whilst Mrs Drooper scowled at her. The minute the detention was over Mrs Drooper took the board rubber, wiped off all the lines and told her to go. Daisy rubbed her sore wrist all the way home. Still, she told herself, only two more months to go. Then she’d be moving up to Degham Comprehensive. With that thought the clouds above seemed to get a little greyer. Daisy sighed and kicked her feet through the puddles.

 

Daisy’s cat Gibbon greeted her as she walked through the door to the flat and weaved his way between her legs, miaowing. Careful not to step on him, Daisy picked up David and Daniel’s bags and shoes from the floor and tidied them neatly. She took off her own coat and hung it up.

In the living room, Daisy’s brothers David (aged thirteen) and Daniel (aged fourteen) were sitting in front of the television eating big bags of crisps.

“Haven’t I told you not to eat crisps before dinner?”

David turned to her, smiled, and let out a large burp.

“That’s disgusting.”

Daniel turned to David and belched even louder, right in his ear.

“Oi! Nutter!” shouted David.

He hit Daniel in the arm.

“Ow. Dead arm!” shouted Daniel.

Within seconds they were wrestling on the floor.

“Brothers,” muttered Daisy, rolling her eyes.

In the kitchen Daisy fed Gibbon and put some mini pizzas in the oven for her brothers. She pulled down her mum’s old recipe book from the counter and flicked through the pages.

“What shall we cook today, mum?” she said quietly.

 

Mr Cooper crawled through the door at nine o’clock looking exhausted. Daisy ran to greet him, gave him a hug and hung up his coat.

“Hi Dad!”

“Hi, Daisy. Something smells good.”

Daisy took his hand and walked him through to the kitchen. His dinner plate was laid out at the table with a glass for his beer. Daisy’s plate was laid out at the other end.

“Oh, Daisy. Please don’t tell me you haven’t eaten yet?”

“Don’t worry. I had too much homework anyway.”

Mr Cooper smiled at her. His eyes looked tired and sad. Then he clapped his hands and wandered over to the bubbling pots on the stove.

“So what have we got here, then!”

“No! No!” laughed Daisy pulling him away, “No one can see the cooking except the chef!”

“Ah, and this chef does know how to cook I suppose? I’m not going to get poisoned am I?”

“Of course!” said Daisy putting on a French accent, “She iz from ze best restaurant in all Paris!”

There was a loud crashing sound upstairs. Mr Cooper looked up and shook his head.

“Sacré Bleu! I take it your brothers are in.”

“Yep. They’re doing their homework.”

There was another crash bigger than the last.

“What’s their homework? Rugby?”

 

After dinner Daisy sat as her dad washed the plates. Daniel and David had found a horror film on TV and had settled down at last.

“You know Daisy, you don’t have to cook for me every night.”

“I know. I like to do it.”

“I just don’t want you to feel that because mum’s gone, you have to fill her place.”

“I know.”

Daisy turned away, digging her nails into a mark on the table.

“Those two herberts’ll soon learn to look after themselves and I can always grab something on the way home.” said Mr Cooper, “You need to look after yourself.”

“I enjoy it, dad. I really do.”

Mr Cooper dried his hands and put them on Daisy’s shoulders.

“Look at me, Daisy.”

She looked into his eyes.

“We’re okay. You’ve got a bright head on your shoulders and an even brighter future ahead of you. I don’t want you to feel that you ever need to hold yourself back just to look after us. Do you understand?”

Daisy nodded.

“Good.”

Mr Cooper patted her on the head.

“Now come on, lets see what gory film those boys have got for us to watch after our posh dinner.”

 

Daisy lay in bed and stared at the glow stars on the ceiling. Her mum had bought them for her birthday two years ago. Mum had started to get sick a few months before then but nobody thought it was serious. She’d gone to the doctors after finding a lump in her breast and had been sent to the hospital for tests. Two weeks later they found out it was cancer. At first, the doctors thought they’d cured it but it kept coming back. Eventually Daisy’s dad paid for mum to go into a private hospital. He didn’t earn much money as a printer but said he’d work the rest of his life if it meant making mum better. When Daisy thought of her mum, she always saw her smiling. Her bright green eyes sparkling. Eventually, even the Private doctors couldn’t do anything. That had been over a year ago. Dad was working all the overtime he could get to pay off the medical bills. David and Daniel, well, they were boys so obviously they couldn’t look after themselves. It was up to Daisy. Daisy put her fingers to her lips and blew a kiss to the glow stars above her head.

“Goodnight mum.”

 

The only exciting thing left for Daisy at St Margaret’s School was the final field trip. Every year the leaving students were allowed to choose the place they wanted to visit. At first the choice was completely open but after the sixth year of the teachers being dragged along to roller coaster theme parks, they put their foot down and decided that they would draw up a list of more appropriate places. On a hot Wednesday morning Mrs Drooper walked up and down the classroom putting the sheets in front of eager hands.

“OK, children. Remember, you can only tick ONE place. We will check for cheaters who try to fill in more than one form - I’m looking at you, Ryan - also, you are not allowed to add alternative choices at the bottom. Last year one clever joker thought it would be funny to suggest that we went to Afghanistan. Well he didn’t get to go anywhere in the end except DETENTION.”

Mrs Drooper slapped the sheet down on Daisy’s desk. Daisy picked it up and read the list. There was the brewery - yuk, no thanks, the old power station - yuk again, a dog biscuit factory - what on earth?, the local swimming pool - oh come on, they’re not even trying now - and a Roman villa. Now THAT was more like it. Daisy put a large tick in the box for the villa.

“OKAY, SETTLE DOWN. The winning choice will be compiled from the results across ALL final year classes and posted on the message board near the lockers on Friday. You will need to get your parents to fill in consent forms over the weekend. NOW...”

Mrs Drooper turned to the board and started writing on it in her squeaky, scratchy handwriting,

“ Names and dates...of...battles...in...world...war...two. Who can give me an answer?”

Daisy bit her lip and sat on her hands.

The week went by slowly. Everyone thought they knew where they’d be going and would say so in a very mature voice. The boys all thought it would be either the brewery or the dog biscuit factory. The girls wanted the villa. On the Friday there was a huge gathering of pupils around the noticeboard talking loudly. Daisy met up with two of her friends, Darren and Koola, and the three of them fought their way through to the announcement. Koola read it out loud.

“Final year students have voted to visit a Roman Villa. All pupils are reminded to get their consent forms signed over the weekend for blah, blah, blah...”

“Yes!” said Darren punching the air.

Daisy was relieved.

“Well, that’s it then,” said Koola.

“I guess so,” said Daisy.

“Aren’t you pleased?”

Daisy shrugged.

“I’m just surprised that with this bunch of muppets voting, we aren’t going to a dog biscuit factory.”

The coach journey took over an hour and was filled with screaming, fighting, singalongs and travel sickness. Daisy and Koola sat, faces pressed to the window, watching the graffiti riddled walls of London disappear and give way to the wide expanses of the Sussex Countryside. Grey streets full of miserable commuters were replaced by green fields filled with contented cows enjoying the lazy summer. With it the mood of the coach party lifted. Even the teachers at the front relaxed, stretching their legs out and sighing. Darren was the only one not paying attention to the world outside. He had his head buried in a book about Roman Gods. Occasionally he would find a particularly interesting quote and poke his head between the seats to tell Daisy and Koola.

“Did you know the Romans had twelve gods just like the greeks. It’s where we get the names for a lot of the months of the year!” he said.

Any other time the girls might have been interested but it was too lovely outside. They nodded and then turned back to wave at the holiday travellers who drove past.

The coach pulled into the pothole filled car park of the Villa carefully. The children bounced around as the driver made his way between the other vehicles to pull up as close to the entrance as he could. Daisy looked at the other coaches. Some of them were from abroad and seemed very exotic. As they climbed down from the bus Daisy noticed the most exotic coach of all. Well, it wasn’t even a coach. It was a dark green doubledecker bus. It looked like it had just driven out of an old photograph. Standing beside it were a group of older girls dressed in smart school uniforms with blazers the same dark green colour as the bus. A couple of them looked over at Daisy as she stared. They had ties on with green and yellow stripes. Daisy had never seen a girl wearing a tie before. A fierce looking woman in a tweed suit with her hair tied up in an enormous bun stood with a clipboard in her hand talking to them. She moved her arms as she talked, waving her pen at the different girls who assembled themselves into groups. Her movements, her dress and her immaculately formed hair made her look like the strictest person Daisy had ever seen. She made Mrs Drooper seem friendly by comparison. Darren grabbed Daisy’s arm and pulled her away.

“Come on daydreamer, we’re going to miss it.”

Mrs Drooper, disturbingly dressed in a purple velvet tracksuit, assembled the children in the entrance hall and tried to get them to stand in single line. One of the volunteer parents tried counting them but they were moving all over the place.

“I make it 75 pupils,” he said, scratching his head.

“Well, that’s impossible,” barked Mrs Drooper, “There were only forty two on the coach.”

“Maybe we gained some. There are a lot of schools here.”

“Nonsense! I’ve got an idea.”

Mrs Drooper reached into her bag and pulled out some coloured dots that she used to mark report cards. She peeled them off and started dotting the children one by one on the forehead, counting them off as she did so.

“...one...two...three...”

There was a titter of laughter. Daisy turned and saw three of the girls from the posh school bus looking at them from the entrance to the souvenir shop. They were a couple of years older than Daisy and much taller. The one who was laughing the most stood in the middle. She had long jet black hair tied in a braided ponytail and milky white skin that looked like it had never seen any London dust. The two girls either side - one blonde, one redhead - had their hair tied in the same long ponytails. Daisy thought that they looked like some kind of strange hair traffic light - blonde, black and red. She giggled and the dark haired girl frowned at her. Mrs Drooper grabbed Daisy’s hand and put a sticker on her forehead.

“...thirty two...”

There wasn’t much left of the villa to look at. The walls had crumbled away and plant life had crawled over the remaining pillars and stones, pulling a blanket of dirt with it. A lot of the children were complaining and asking to go back to the coach. Daisy loved it, though. Followed by Darren and Koola, she explored behind trees and around ditches, following the numbered sections on the guide and stumbled across hidden treasures. There were great urns and broken pillars, submerged servant quarters with tiny pots and bowls, little cobbled courts and stables for long gone horses. Daisy stepped around a high leafy bush and stopped suddenly, quite shocked. A little way ahead and a few feet down was a great floor mosaic marked off with red rope. It showed a picture of a flame haired goddess with bright green eyes stood proudly in golden armour. She had one hand lifted above her head in which sat a dove and in her other hand, a shield with a snake curled around a spear marked on it. The picture was made up of thousands of tiny coloured tiles.

“That’s incredible,” said Daisy, “Imagine how long that must have taken.”

She walked up to the edge of the excavation and put her hands on the guard rope. The goddess seemed to be looking out of the picture directly at her.

“It says here that her name is Minerva,” said Daisy reading an information plaque, “Goddess of wisdom, intelligence, the arts and music. What do you think, Darren?”

“Oh, I think it's such as shame that oiks like you should be allowed out of your little rat holes.”

Daisy turned around. Leaning against a tree were the three girls from the souvenir shop. The dark haired girl stepped forward, a sneer on her lips.

“I think you’ll find your friends are back at the servant quarters. Clearly that’s where you should be…”

Daisy stepped back. The blond and redhaired girls walked over and put a hand either side of Daisy, grabbing the guard rope and trapping her.

“...The thing is, oik - may I call you oik? - The thing is, oik, our parents pay a lot of money to send us to a good school so that we don’t have to mix with UNDESIRABLES like you. I mean, it's nice hearing you talking about wisdom, the arts, intelligence, but what could you possibly know about those things?”

The girl with the black hair narrowed her eyes and stared at Daisy. There was something scary in her eyes, like a far off madness.

“You felt good enough to laugh at us earlier, why don’t you show us that you can speak? ”

Daisy swallowed hard. There was the nagging voice in the back of her head telling her to keep quiet but she couldn’t help herself.

“I know one thing,” she said, “I know that no matter how much money your parents spent, they didn’t buy you any manners.”

The dark haired girl’s lip quivered. Daisy waited for the worst. Then the girl laughed. She reached out and stroked Daisy’s hair.

“Oh, how beautiful! We’ve got a little fighter here. What’s you name?”

“Daisy.”

“Daisy? How sweet. Daisy, this is Olga…”

The blonde haired girl smirked at Daisy.

“…and this is Dorothy.”

The redheaded girl did the same.

“My name is Eleanore, nice to meet you.”

Eleanore offered her hand. She was smiling but her eyes still had the madness in them. Reluctantly, Daisy held her hand out. Eleanore grabbed it and pulled Daisy in close.

“Seeing as you like it here so much, Daisy, why don’t you stay here!”

Eleanore thumped Daisy hard in the chest. Daisy toppled back and slipped over the side of the excavation. She tried to grab the rope but it was too late. The last thing she saw before she hit the floor was the three girls laughing at her.

 

Then everything went black.

 

For a long time.

 

Daisy could hear a voice in the darkness. It was very faint and it was saying “help me...help me...” over and over. Then the darkness started to fade and she could see the tiles of the mosaic. There were spots of blood on them. Daisy could feel a warm arm around her shoulders and a hand rubbing her face gently.

“...help me...help me...”

The voice was Daisy’s. She stopped and looked up. Her eyes were blurry. Someone was holding her but she couldn’t make out their face. There was a sharp throbbing pain on the back of her head that was a bit worrying.

“...try not to talk, sweetie, you’ve had a fall.”

Gradually her vision cleared and Daisy saw an older girl smiling back at her.

“...hey, can you see me now?” asked the girl.

She had a soft, strong voice.

“ Who are you?” asked Daisy.

“ I’m Roni. What’s your name?”

“ Daisy Cooper.”

“ Well, hello Daisy Cooper! A pleasure to meet you, though it could have been in better circumstances.”

Daisy laughed.

“Good. Nice to see you didn’t land on your sense of humour and break that, because that would be awful. Do you think you can stand?”

“I’ll try.”

Carefully Daisy got to her feet. Her legs were a bit wobbly and there were grazes on her shins. She realised she was standing in the middle of the mosaic of Minerva.

“How’s your head?” asked Roni.

“It hurts.”

Roni was wearing the same school uniform as Eleanore and the other two girls. Her dark hair hung loose and crowned a beautiful face with dark, expressive eyes. Roni was much older than the other girls, maybe even eighteen. There was a difference about the uniform too. The tie. Unlike the other girls’ ties, Roni’s was plain green. In the middle of it, holding it in place, was an expensive looking tie pin made up of a large letter ‘I’ with an ‘S’ curled around it.

“Oh, do you like this?” asked Roni.

She held her fingers to it.

“Well, I could tell you a few stories about it. If I was allowed. Here, hold this to your head.”

Roni handed Daisy a soft handkerchief. Daisy put it gently to the bump on her head looked around. It would be a struggle to get out of the excavated hole. The mosaic sat a good six feet below the wooded surface and the walls were finely packed mud.

“You’d fallen just to the bottom of the wall of dirt which was why no one spotted you. I heard you calling. How are you feeling?”

“A bit better.”

“Okay, Daisy. Well you hang on. I’ll get to the top and pull you up, okay?”

Daisy nodded. Roni walked over to the wall of mud where part of the protective red rope was hanging down. She gripped it firmly and gave a heavy tug. It held fast. Then, to Daisy’s surprise, she dug her expensive looking leather shoes into the wall and climbed to the top as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Her head popped back over.

“Okay, Daisy. Take hold of the loose end, wrap it round your waist and keep it tight. I’ll have you out of there in no time.”

Daisy grabbed hold of the rope. Then she stopped.

“Hang on one second.”

Roni watched Daisy from above as she crouched down on the mosaic and mopped up the little spots of blood. She ran back to the rope and tied it around her waist as instructed.

“OK!” she said and with a surprisingly strong tug from Roni, climbed up out of the pit.

Ten minutes later Daisy was sat on the wash counter in the ladies toilets at the entrance to the villa. She was shocked to look in the mirror when they arrived. There were dark crusts in her hair from where she’d hit the ground. Roni was washing the dirt out of Daisy’s grazed knees.

“What happened, sweetie?”

Daisy shrugged.

“I fell.”

She’d dealt with bullies before. When you told on them they had a nasty habit of beating you up for it.

“Are you sure you don’t want to visit the hospital?” asked Roni.

Daisy nodded. She didn’t like hospitals. They reminded her of mum.

“Well, we’ll have to get you back to your classmates. Once I clean you up.”

Roni fished inside her satchel and pulled out a green bag which she unzipped and emptied onto the side next to Daisy. The bag didn’t contain normal girly things. There was a passport, a roll of money that looked foreign, a couple of candles, a lighter, a ball of string, a penknife, a small pair of binoculars, a penlight and a first aid kit.

“Now, sweetie, first things first,” said Roni picking up the torch, “I want you to look up while I shine this light in your eyes. Try not to blink.”

Daisy did as she said. Roni then did some other weird things - clicking her fingers quickly next to each ear and asking Daisy where she heard it, getting her to push back and pull against her hands. It was like a game. Then Roni stood back and stared at Daisy with her hand on her chin and an eyebrow raised. Daisy felt like a bag of potatoes in a supermarket being looked at by a shopper.

“What are you doing?” she asked suspiciously.

 Roni smiled.

“You’re fine. I was worried you had concussion and those were some tests to see. Apart from cuts, bruises and a jolly old headache, you’ll survive. Now lets clean up your appearance.”

Roni reached back in the bag and took out an emergency first aid kit. With the skill of someone trained for battle, she threw aside the contents, ripped the top off a bottle and dabbed some ethanol onto cotton. Roni moved Daisy’s hair aside carefully and dabbed the cotton onto the skin. It stung like nettles.

“OW.”

“I know, sweetie, but we’ve go to keep those nasty germs out.”

Gently, Roni dabbed around the wounds.

“So, do you know where your classmates are? Have you got some kind of assembly point?”

“I don’t even know what time it is.”

“It's three o’clock.”

This shocked Daisy. They’d been looking at the mosaics just after lunch.

How long have I been down there? she thought.

“I need to find my school!”

 

They ran through the turnstile to the car park but the coach was gone. Daisy stood in the muddy tracks wondering how on earth she was going to get back. The old green double decker from the posh school was still there, some of its pupils getting back on board.

“I guess we must have missed them,” said Roni.

She put a hand on her hip and rubbed her chin thoughtfully with the other. Then she snapped her fingers.

“Wait here, Daisy.”

Roni walked over to her school bus and started talking to the stern lady with the enormous bun. Daisy looked at the doubledecker full of those strange girls, so different from her own classmates. She wondered if they’d give her a lift back to London. She wondered if she wanted a lift with them back to London. Roni was lovely, but the other three? Roni came running back over.

“Good news, sweetie. I’m going to put you on a train back to London. The station’s about a ten minute walk if your legs are up for it.”

The old green school bus started up its engines.

“But aren’t you going to miss your ride?”

Roni smiled.

“Don’t you worry about that. I’ve been stranded in a lot worse places than this, I can tell you.”

The walk cleared Daisy’s head. The path along the road to the station was shaded by overhanging trees and a breeze made their leaves rustle gently. Though Daisy was miles from anywhere she recognised, Roni made her feel comfortable. She was like an older sister. They started talking, mostly with Roni asking Daisy questions. She seemed delighted that Daisy was interested in subjects like science and literature and maths and, well, everything that was to do with learning. She even clapped with delight when Daisy told her she hoped to be a news reporter when she grew up. It was like Daisy was talking to someone who understood her for the first time. She told Roni that most of the time people just told her to be quiet or to stop trying to be clever. Roni looked cross at this.

“Daisy, you appear to me to be a very smart young girl,” she said, “ and to carry on being smart and interested in the world when you have people telling you not to be, it shows that you have a lot of strength in here.”

Roni tapped daisy’s chest.

“Let me tell you something, Sweetie, when you have that strength, it doesn’t matter what other people throw at you - you’ll always get where you’re going in the end.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes. Eventually they reached a high street and Daisy could see the familiar British Rail sign of the station at the other end.

“Now, don’t you worry about the ticket because Darlington’s going to pay for that,” said Roni as they crossed the bridge over the rail tracks.

“Who’s Darlington?” asked Daisy.

“That’s where I’m from. Where the bus is from. Darlington School for Girls. You haven’t heard of it?”

Daisy shook her head.

“Oh,” said Roni, surprised, “ It's quite famous. If you know where to look for it, I suppose. You’d make an excellent Darlington Girl, I reckon.”

That surprised Daisy. She tried to imagine herself in the school uniform and not in her usual jeans and tee shirt. It was difficult to picture.

“You think so?”

“Oh, absolutely. How old are you?”

“I’m coming up to twelve.”

“Then you should take the test.”

“What test?”

“The online test. Darlington gets so many girls applying every year that you have to pass it before they’ll let you take an entrance exam. Ah. Here we go.”

Roni turned into the ticket office and went up to the counter.

“One First Class ticket to Waterloo, please!”

The train was at the platform so they had to run. Daisy wanted to ask more about Darlington School. Could she really go somewhere like that? They got to the platform out of breath and Roni waved the signal man to stop. She helped Daisy up onto the carriage.

“Thank you so much!” said Daisy.

“Don’t mention it. You get back safely, okay?”

“I will. Oh.”

Daisy reached into her pocket and pulled out the green handkerchief Roni had given her for the bump on her head.

“This is yours.”

Roni waved her hand away.

“You keep it, sweetie. You might need it again. Besides, you can give it to me next time we meet.”

Roni winked at her and walked away with a wave.

“Daisy!” she shouted as the train started to pull away, “Remember…Do...The...Test.”

Daisy was exhausted when she got home. There was no point trying to get back to St Margarets. She’d have to deal with that tomorrow. She dropped her satchel down and kicked off her shoes. In the bathroom she dampened a flannel and dabbed it against the bump on her head, hissing through her teeth at the pain. Then she ran a bath and filled it with bubble bath for a good long soak. Pulling keys and change out of her pocket, she found the handkerchief again. She unfolded it in her hands. Stitched into the corner in yellow thread against the deep green was a word.

 “Darlington,” said Daisy, reading the word out loud.

She hung it carefully on the edge of the mirror in front of her and sank beneath the bubbles.

About the Author

Image of Robert DeeRobert Dee has been writing fiction since the age of nine when a story he wrote about a werewolf buried in his back garden impressed his (easily impressed) classmates. Before Daisy Cooper he wrote mostly mature fiction - stories, novels, screenplays - and spent a short time in journalism.