You thought the Dark had died and gone,
But you were foolish, you were wrong.
No place to hide, no place to flee,
This spells the end of the Prophecy Tree.
When 12-year-old Frankie O’Neill steps inside a smelly public toilet after a row with her mum, she wishes she could be anywhere but here – in this life, with this family – but she isn’t expecting to be catapulted into a whole other world. A world that depends on an enchanted tree for its protection; a world now in terrible danger and looking to Frankie for help. This journey will take her deep into the shadows to confront an ancient darkness, but it’s the secrets she uncovers about herself and her own family that will really turn her world upside down. And if Frankie is to succeed – and survive – she’ll first have to face the demons within. Blending fantasy adventure with Celtic myth, The Prophecy Tree is a twisty Middle Grade tale about one girl’s quest to save a kingdom and find a place where she truly fits.
Read on for the opening pages…
The Prophecy Tree
The old man squinted as he held the candle closer to the book on his lap, being careful not to let hot wax drip onto the yellowing, brittle pages. A dragonfly flew in through the narrow window in front of him and landed on his hand. Outside, the twin suns were starting to set and the horizon glowed pumpkin-orange.
‘It is time, Lucien,’ he said. ‘Go quickly, and bring the girl to me.’
He watched the creature flit away and disappear into the open sky beyond the tower.
‘Now it begins.’
Chapter 1: An extraordinary toilet
Frankie O’Neill yawned. She watched the rain smack against her bedroom window and the wind tug at the treetops outside. With the duvet still tucked around her, she closed her book and made a face at the dismal Irish weather, which went on about its business regardless.
She was supposed to be going shopping today with her mum and the twins. And it was the worst kind of shopping. The back-to-school kind. She’d much rather stay here and finish her book. She was just getting to the best part – the part where the brave heroine was going to defeat the evil villain once and for all.
Right then, her mum stuck her head round the door. Frankie’s mum didn’t believe in knocking.
‘Hurry up, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes.’
‘But it’s pouring out there,’ said Frankie. ‘Can’t we go another day?’
‘No, Frankie, we can’t. Those uniforms aren’t going to buy themselves. Now get a move on!’
Frankie slumped back onto the bed as the door closed, her hair spreading out over the pillow like molasses, and wondered if her second year at St Brigid’s would be any better than her first. Everything was just so different from it had been at primary school. It was almost as though she forgot how to be herself once she stepped inside those tall, iron gates each morning, and she felt weirdly precarious all day, as if she were about to fall off a ledge or something. And as for friends? There were a handful of girls who were nice enough to Frankie and usually saved her a seat at lunchtime, but she hadn’t much in common with them and she’d never once seen them outside school. She told herself it was better that way. Because somehow she couldn’t quite picture any of her classmates in her home, with her family.
With her mum.
The thing was, Frankie’s mum wasn’t like other people’s mums. She wasn’t the sort of parent who baked cookies, helped with homework and noted down important dates so that she wouldn’t forget them. A lot of the time she didn’t even think to buy groceries or clean the house.
She was an artist who spent most of her time closeted away in the shed-cum-studio in the back garden, painting huge canvasses. Whenever Frankie wandered in to stare at them, she was always mesmerised by the whorls and tangles of paint, and found herself wondering if that’s what it was like inside her mum’s head. It would explain a lot.
During the school term, Frankie would usually come home to find the twins slouched in front of the television while her mum washed paintbrushes out in the kitchen sink. Her mum’s wild hair would be partially subdued by a bandana, her skin and clothes covered in sploshes of colour. She always looked slightly surprised to see Frankie, as if she’d forgotten she existed. She often wouldn’t have remembered about dinner either, and Frankie would have to cobble something together from whatever was left in the cupboards.
And then there were the mood swings.
Sometimes Frankie’s mum seemed sad and vacant for hours or even days at a stretch, or crabby for no apparent reason, as if she was furious at the whole world. And other times she was bubbling over with so much energy that it was exhausting just to watch her.
It had been like that for as long as Frankie could remember, and she’d lost count of the times she’d wished her mum would go and get a normal job and try a bit harder to be more like everybody else.
Or maybe just try a bit harder in general.
It was a minor miracle, she thought now, that her mum had even remembered Frankie and the twins would need new school uniforms this year. It had been Frankie’s dad who’d taken care of those sorts of things – practical things. But that was before he’d decided to divorce Frankie’s mum and move to a whole other country.
Frankie buried herself under the duvet, listening to Rory and Liam galumphing up and down the landing pretending to be Batman and Superman. Or was it the Avengers this week? It was all so easy for her little brothers – everything they did was a great adventure, and they were always the heroes. But Frankie knew better. Adventures only happened in books, and there were no heroes. Not really.
* * *
They all stood in the spattering rain glaring at one another.
‘For crying out loud,’ said Frankie’s mum, ‘didn’t I tell you boys to use the loo in the shopping centre?’
The smaller twin, Liam, shrugged. ‘Didn’t need to go then.’
‘Me neither,’ said Rory.
Their mum sighed. ‘We’ll be home in twenty minutes.’
‘Can’t wait that long, mummy!’
Frankie dipped the toe of her trainer into a puddle and flicked it upwards, trying to smother her anger. They’d spent ages trying on stiff new blazers and sensible shoes. Practically all morning. But when they’d finally got to the till and the sales assistant had bagged everything up, Frankie’s mum hadn’t been able to find her wallet. They’d all had to stand there while she lifted every item out of her handbag and pockets, just to be sure. Then she had turned to Frankie, frowning absent-mindedly, and said, ‘You don’t have any money on you, do you?’
‘I’m twelve,’ Frankie had said, through gritted teeth.
Sometimes it was like her mum was from another planet.
Worst of all, Kat Cooper and her mum had been right behind them in the queue the entire time. Kat, with her perfect hair and her mean little mouth. Frankie knew the story would be all over the school before break time on the very first day back.
Now, as they stood in the rain without a single shopping bag to show for their efforts, Frankie’s mum was scanning the street ahead. ‘Look!’ she said eventually. ‘I’d forgotten about that. It’ll have to do.’
She was pointing to a boxy structure rising up out of the pavement opposite. Its pockmarked walls were decorated with graffiti and grey old bits of chewing gum, and its sign announced ‘TO LET’ – the ‘I’ obliterated by a furious black squiggle.
Frankie scrunched up her face. ‘Does anyone actually use that? It looks like it might lock people in and flush them down into the sewers to get eaten by zombies.’ Feeling suddenly playful, she grabbed her brothers by the shoulders. ‘Soooo huuuungry! Weeee waaaant braaaains, liiiittle booooys’ braaaains!’
The twins stuck their tongues out at her and plashed across the street to the toilet. But when they reached it they hung back, looking uncertain, while their mum slid a coin into the slot and pressed a button.
‘Well, on you go,’ she said. ‘Both of you together, before there’s an accident.’
Rory shook his head, raindrops skittering off his hood onto his feet. ‘Don’t need to go no more.’
‘Me neither,’ said Liam.
‘What?’ Their mum adjusted her tatty umbrella. ‘But you were both dancing up and down a minute ago.’ She turned to Frankie. ‘See what you’ve gone and done? You’ve put silly notions into their heads and now they’re scared to go in.’
Frankie rolled her eyes. Somehow it was fine for the twins to pester her – to put creepy-crawlies in her bed, or to sneak up behind her when she was reading just so they could yell in her ear and make her jump. But all she had to do was make one little joke and suddenly she was the bad guy.
‘I was only messing,’ she said. ‘It’s just a boring old toilet.’
Liam’s hands were clenched into stubborn little fists. ‘You first then.’
‘I’m not the one about to wet themselves, doughhead.’
‘Shut up, Frankie,’ said her mum. ‘Listen, I’ll go in with the pair of you.’
Rory curled his lip. ‘We’re not babies.’
‘Fine!’ she said. ‘Frances O’Neill, you started this, so you’re just going to have to go in first and show them there’s nothing to be afraid of.’
‘But I don’t even need the loo!’ said Frankie.
‘I don’t care. Just go, and hurry up!’
Frankie glared at her mum and her mum glared back. It was so unfair. Was it Frankie who’d dragged them all out into the rain for nothing? No. So why was she the one being given a hard time? Why was she always the one being given a hard time?
‘I wish dad was here,’ she mumbled.
Her mum threw her a sharp look. ‘What was that?’
‘I said I wish dad was here. He wouldn’t have forgotten his wallet, and he wouldn’t have made me go into a stupid, smelly public toilet for no reason.’
‘Well he isn’t here, is he?’ Her mum seemed to draw herself up a little taller. ‘And tell me this, Frankie – if he was so great, your dad, how come he left us? All of us.’
Frankie felt her lip tremble. She dropped her chin and stared very hard at her feet.
Her mum gave a long sigh. ‘Look, I shouldn’t have said that. I …’
Frankie looked up to meet her mum’s eyes, and the words were out of her before she could stop herself: ‘He left because of you. Because you’re a total nutbag.’
In the split second before she turned on her heel and stepped into the toilet, she saw her mum flinch as if someone had slapped her.
* * *
A light winked on as the door closed behind her, and Frankie tried to ignore the sick, guilty feeling that was already worming its way into her stomach. What had come over her? She’d never spoken to her mum like that before. Ever. She took a shaky breath. There was a notice on the wall in front of her:
IF NOT UNLOCKED AFTER 20 MINUTES DOOR WILL OPEN AUTOMATICALLY.
PLEASE DO NOT FORGET YOUR BELONGINGS.
And underneath this someone had scrawled:
Aoife + Matt 4Ever
As Frankie stared, the letters began to waver as if they were made up of tiny insects. She squinted, looked again. But no, it wasn’t the letters that were moving at all – it was the air. It was shimmering, pulsing. Just like a heat haze.
Then, with a pop, the light went out.
Frankie felt a thrill of fear. Just a faulty bulb, she told herself, get a grip.
Her heartbeat quickened as she fumbled for the exit button, and not just because she was going to have to face her mum. The door slid back across. Light streamed in.
But something was very wrong.
Her mum wasn’t there any more, and neither was the street.
The walls of the toilet were becoming transparent and the floor was dissolving beneath her.
Moments later it was all just air.