“Mum!” Sophie slammed the front door behind her. “I’m home! We’re home!”
In the kitchen, Sophie’s mother wiped her hands on a tea towel and went to intercept her eight-year-old daughter in the hall. But instead of her ex-husband, she found only Sophie, her arms struggling to hold a bulky object covered with a blanket.
“Where’s your dad? Scarpered again, I suppose.”
Sophie was too excited to answer the question. “Isn’t it wonderful, Mummy? It’s my turn. The whole half term! I got lucky. Most people only get him for a weekend.”
Sophie’s mother grunted. Lucky was perhaps not the word she would have chosen.
“Remember what we agreed, love. You are responsible for it. You will do all the feeding, all the cleaning out.”
“Yes, yes,” Sophie rolled her eyes. She pushed past her mother and lifted the object onto the kitchen table.
“Sophie!” Mum wailed behind her. “It can’t stop there. I’m making tea.”
“Oh, it’s just for a moment. He’ll stay in my room, silly.”
Mum was about to upbraid the little girl for her attitude but she held her tongue. It was good to see her so excited, so determined. Perhaps bringing the class pet home would encourage her to be more responsible, more grown-up. It was Miss Taylor’s policy. Everyone in her class took a turn in looking after the school pet, no matter how disruptive or obnoxious their behaviour. Perhaps those kids needed it the most and, truth be told, Sophie was no angel. She could be a proper little madam.
“Well, let’s have a look at it, then,” Mum reached for a corner of the blanket.
Sophie slapped her hand away. “No, Mummy! That’s what you must never do. You’ll scare him. He doesn’t like artificial light.”
“I think,” Mum spoke in measured tones, “you’d better take your little friend upstairs right this minute, young lady. Before I lose my temper.”
Sophie rolled her eyes again. She’s not eight, she’s a teenager already, Mum thought, watching her daughter manhandle the covered cage up the stairs, cooing to it.
Mum carried on peeling potatoes. A thud from upstairs made her look at the ceiling. A scream. Sophie called for her mother. A growling, a horrible, guttural growling.
Mum bounded up the stairs, armed with the peeler. She pushed her daughter’s door aside.
The cage lay open on the floor. Sophie was sprawled on the rug, reaching a hand to her mother.
Mum was just in time to see a greasy, grey tentacle slip into her daughter’s ear.
Sophie blinked and sat up straight.
“It’s all right now, Mummy,” she intoned, staring blankly. “Miss Taylor says I won’t be any more trouble from now on.”