Panicking, Dudu spun round. Her head collided with Jeremy’s. Both clasped their temples.

“Ow!” said Jeremy, rubbing the sore place above his eye.

“Sorry! Sorry,” said Dudu, slipping by him and making her way down toward the living room again.

“It’s OK … if you want to see…” He started to offer, but she was already in the other room.

“I think I’ll be off,” she said, trying to sound matter-of-fact, swinging her bag onto her shoulder and standing up straight.

Jeremy was still rubbing his head. “You didn’t even have a drink.”

What was he thinking? What was going on behind those spooky owl eyes? Was she brave enough to find out? Not right now she wasn’t. She remembered how a minute ago her skin had started to shrink as she stood peeking through the slightly open door.

She knew what she’d seen. A glimpse of a room where skeletons hung like chandeliers. A palace of death.

She slithered along the wall, exiting awkwardly.

“Another time. Thanks though. See you at school, hey?”

She sounded mechanical now, but she couldn’t help it. She was simply desperate to escape. The atmosphere in the house had become clammy, close, like a shroud. She half-imagined she was struggling to breathe.

She cleared her throat. “Ahem. But thank you for having me.”

With that strange over-formal goodbye, she was out the door, down the path, across the street, up to her front door, and safely inside.

“Did you meet the new boy at school yet, pumpkin?”

Dudu was sitting down to her mother’s supper of kitchen curry.

“Mom,” groaned Dudu, picking up her fork, “I’ve asked you like a zillion times not to call me pumpkin. It makes me feel like a ten-year old.”

Dudu’s mother raised her eyebrows at her husband.

“Don’t ask me,” he said with a grin, picking up a carrot from his plate and popping it into his mouth.

“So have you met him?” continued her mother.

“Yes,” she said noncommittally, spearing a piece of potato with her fork.

“And? You seemed very curious about him yesterday.” Her father poured himself a glass of water from a jug on the table.

“I guess he isn’t so interesting after all,” Dudu lied. It was too early in her investigation to let people in on the details. Her detective book told her that.

“I wonder if he’s any good at soccer.” Dudu’s father was a sports instructor at a nearby school. He coached after-school soccer there too. He’d been really good when he was younger, playing for an amateur team called The Leopards, and they’d been in the newspaper. Her father had kept the clipping, and pasted it into the photo album.

“Maybe,” said Dudu. She didn’t want to discuss Jeremy. The mysterious new boy was something she wanted to keep to herself, like a secret. She might even write a book about him, she thought. The Dark and Sinister History of Jeremy… What was his surname again? She’d have to check up on that if she was going to do any proper research. That’s if Jeremy was even his real name.

Dudu read later than usual that night. She’d taken a reference book out from the City Library: Inside the Mind of the Serial Killer by Ida de Klerk.

Her mother drove her to the City Library once a month, on a Thursday, because Dudu read fast. She chomped through books. On her shelf was a jumble on a variety of subjects. Bee-keeping, astronomy, Legends of the Holy Grail, poetry by Ted Hughes, even some graphic novels. She was nothing if not a child of the imagination.

The book she held now was published in the1990s, so it was not recent. Still, the photos of the suspected killers grabbed her. She squinted into their eyes with interest, trying to figure out what went on behind them. She couldn’t though. Page after page, their eyes looked back at her coldly. Their faces were full of secrets she would never know.

She shivered. She was freaking herself out. She glanced over at the little clock on the bedside table. Its green numbers told her it was 22.51. She wasn’t ready to put the book down though.

She started a chapter titled ‘Early Warnings’. The author wrote that many psychopaths exhibited these tendencies from a young age. Many of the frightening characters in the book tortured animals. A tingle went up her spine. Animals. Bones. The bone curtain.

She sprang out of bed to check the window, Jeremy’s window. It was dark.

She picked up the book. She had a creepy feeling. She opened the cupboard, buried the book in her top drawer with her socks and underwear, then hopped back into bed. She lay still, trying to forget what she had just read. It was no use.

“It’s just a book. It’s not real,” she whispered to herself.

That was not much comfort. Dudu knew very well that the monstrous people described in the book were real. Very real, and some living in suburbs like her own. Some might even be as young as fifteen. With orange hair…

She lay still and waited for sleep.

* * * * *

The next day, Dudu kept feeling like something was about to happen. She was like a dog with its ears popping up, expecting something. Had she finally stepped off the edge, into unreality? She’d always been accused of exaggerating and dramatics.

She thought about the way Jeremy had looked at her as she sat at his dining room table. Almost an animal look, a look without emotions. Like the eyes of a bird as it scans the lands below for prey. Steel-hearted.

She shuddered.

She tried to pay attention. Mr Molobi was explaining the difference between an isosceles triangle and a scalene triangle. She watched him as he drew on the blackboard, his back to them.

She carefully slid her eyes over to watch Jeremy. His posture revealed nothing. He was sitting up straight, facing the front as attentively as a robot. His hair had been combed in a side parting, but a curly strand of it fell on his forehead.

Suddenly, he turned his face and looked straight into her eyes. He did it so fast, she almost jumped. She hadn’t been prepared. Blushing a roaring purple, she brought her eyes back to her desk, inspected her nails, her pen, anything.

She wanted to know if he was still looking at her (Please, God, no!), or if he had looked away, but she was too scared to look back at him. She didn’t want to see those eyes. Those glassy owl eyes with no life in them.

Centimetre by centimetre, but unable to move any faster, she twisted her neck round so that she could see him.

Her breath caught in her throat. He was still looking at her. Then slowly, measuredly, he swivelled his head back round to the chalkboard.

Dudu let her breath out on a long ‘shh’. She felt terrified. In the middle of geometry! It was ridiculous!

She cleared her throat, sat up, adjusted herself, looked around the room casually. Nobody noticed her. Jeremy was now writing something down, chewing on a fingernail at the same time. As normal as pie.

“Pull yourself together, girlfriend,” she warned herself, before focusing back on the diagram. X. Find x. There is always a way to find x…

“Dudu, you’re obsessing, and it’s not cool,” Sive told her as the class broke up for the afternoon.

Other learners slipped by in the noise and tumult of school-out. Tables were pushed back, windows closed. The push of pupils out of the classroom moved Sive and Dudu into the corridor.

“I know it’s fun for you to have these little mysteries, but you get so involved, and you worry me.”

The whole time, Dudu was fishing in her bag, ignoring him. Sive pulled her sleeve, demanding attention.

“Dudu, listen to me!”

“What do you want from me, dude?” she said peevishly, pulling her arm back.

“Just promise me you’re not going to go stalking that new guy and make an ass of yourself in front of the school. I couldn’t take it. OK? Promise.”

Dudu wasn’t listening. She had spotted something more interesting than Sive. She saw, in the distance, almost on the other side of the parking area, Jeremy.

“Got you,” her mind said, and her body burned with pleasure. “Gotta bounce,” she said, flicking her eyes back to her friend. “Talk about this later?”

Sive could sense he had lost her. “Sure,” he said without much enthusiasm.

Keeping her eyes on her prize, and working with caution, Dudu honed in slowly on her target. A few minutes of lurking behind one of the pillars at the top of the stairs, and Dudu was more or less invisible. The kids in the yard started to thin out. Cars pulled out and away, crammed with faces. A skater started to weave over the tarmac. Some parents stood chatting. The din was starting to subside.

She eyed Jeremy. He was standing by his bike, taking forever to get onto it. Whenever he seemed about to leave, he seemed to need to dig in his bag, or talk on his phone, or chat to someone. He was waiting out the afternoon rush. Why? Did he have something he needed to hide?

A boy in the form above them approached him. Jeremy nodded and chatted. He pretended to be unlocking the bicycle, but Dudu could tell from his hands that he wasn’t doing anything.

The sun moved a fraction in the sky. A fly buzzed in her ear. She was starting to get bored. Why was Jeremy waiting so long? This wasn’t fun anymore. She heard her stomach grumble. She started to imagine a ham sandwich. With mustard. And tomato.

Then Jeremy moved. Finally! Looking round to see if anyone was looking, he knelt, and stuck his hand into the bushes that fringed the bicycle racks. Parting the weeds, he brought out a small package – what it was Dudu couldn’t see, but it looked like something wrapped in a towel, or some clothes.

Jeremy handled the parcel with care. He held it like a baby. He then put the parcel, whatever it was, into a larger canvas bag. What was it? Dudu shuddered to consider.

Suddenly, the bag pulsed. It was a horrible sight. A muffled squeal sounded from inside it, and the sound clawed at Dudu’s heart – it almost sounded like a baby.

* * *

Tell us what you think: What is Jeremy doing? Why is he behaving in such a secretive way?