Close up, the stone looked more like solidified fungus than rock, and the red plastic button seemed out of place on top of it. The whole thing had a feeling of wrongness, as if it didn’t belong there. The smell in the clearing had got much worse; it really was a dogs’ toilet.
Steven crouched down so he could read the words on the front of the stone:
DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON
‘There, we’ve looked,’ he said. ‘It’s just an ordinary stone with a plastic button on it.’
Tracy rolled her eyes. ‘Do ordinary stones usually have plastic buttons on them?’
‘They do if they’re bits of scenery left over from a TV show.’
Tracy crouched next to him. ‘Press it, then.’
‘Press the button and see what happens.’
Steven didn’t move. He felt hot, tired and sick; all his senses were telling him to run for his life, but his feet seemed to be glued to the ground.
‘There’s no need to be scared,’ Tracy went on. ‘If it’s just a bit of old scenery, like you say, nothing will happen, will it?’
That word again. ‘You’re the one that’s scared,’ he hissed. ‘Otherwise you’d press it yourself. You’re scared to press it, because it tells you not to.’
‘There’s no point me pressing it. You can only go to Fairyland once, and I’ve been already.’ She stood up and brushed leaf mould off her hands. ‘Anyway, it only tells you not to press it so you will.’
‘What?’ He turned his head to look up at her. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’
‘Yes it does. It’s like those signs that tell you not to walk on the grass – you just want to do it all the more.’
She had a point.
‘I wish I could go back,’ she sighed. ‘Fairyland is awesome. It’s not the girly sort of place you read about in the kiddy books; it’s so wonderful and exciting, I can’t even describe it.’
‘You can’t describe it because you haven’t been there.’
Tracy crouched down next to him again. ‘Just think, Steven,’ she said softly. ‘If you went there, you wouldn’t be around when the holidays are over. You wouldn’t have to go to that horrid big school you’re so scared of.’
Steven felt like she’d punched him in the stomach. ‘How did you – ’ he began, then caught himself. ‘I’m not scared of going to Comp!’
‘Oh yes you are,’ the soft voice went on. ‘There’s so much to be scared of, isn’t there? Strict teachers and harsh punishments. Being late for lessons because you can’t find your way around all those corridors. Tonnes of homework. And worst of all, the bullies. Big boys and girls, flushing your head down the toilet in break and waiting for you outside the gates after school. Kids with knives – ’
‘Shut up,’ hissed Steven. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Tracy just kept smiling smugly, and at that moment Steven hated her more than he’d ever hated anyone in his life. He didn’t want to think about Comp; with the whole summer stretching before him, he’d managed to put it out of his mind, and that was where he wanted it to stay.
But Tracy had other ideas. ‘Let’s face it, you won’t have a chance. You’re exactly the sort of boy that bullies love to pick on.’ She put on a mocking baby-voice. ‘A mummy’s boy who never goes out of the house, who’s too scared to press an itty-bitty little red button.’
Steven felt like he was going to explode. He wanted to punch Tracy on the nose; but he wasn’t the sort of boy who hit girls, so he punched the stone instead.
Right on the red button.
Picture found here