Dora's Dad came to pick her up from boarding school for the Christmas holidays.

"I'd better tell you straight away," he said as they drove, "that I haven't been able to get you a GameBox for Christmas."

"Oh, Dad!" said Dora. "Why not? You said you were going to!"

She knew for a fact that both of her best friends were getting GameBoxes: in fact almost everyone in the class seemed to be getting one. So now she was going to be the odd one out at the start of next term: even more than she was already.

"I didn't realise how expensive they were, for a start," said her Dad.

He wasn't very rich. Dora was at boarding school on a special grant, because her mother had died. All the other girls came from well-to-do backgrounds, and they lived in big houses, with things like ponies and swimming-pools. They got at least two holidays a year, and their holidays were always somewhere exciting, like scuba-diving in Barbados, or skiing in the Alps.

Dora's Dad lived in a rented house, and took her on camping holidays. Dora didn't have a mobile phone, or a television in her bedroom, or any of that stuff. She did have her own computer, but only a second-hand one, because her Dad did a lot of work with computers and gave her one of his old ones. She knew more about computers than anyone else in her class, but she usually kept quiet about it, because she didn't want them to call her a nerd.

She was always the odd one out. It started with having such a funny name: and that was all her Dad's fault, too.

"Anyway," said her Dad, "I was still going to get you one, but by the time I got the money sorted out they were all gone. There's been a tremendous stampede for them. There was something about it on the News the other day. I've searched all over the Internet, but the best I could do was place an order for after Christmas. You're not too disappointed, are you?"

"There must be some somewhere," said Dora.

"Well, I suppose there might be one or two left in the shops. But I can't search every single shop in the country, can I?"

Dora didn't say anything. She'd been looking forward to coming home for Christmas, but now she felt cross and disappointed and wished she was back at school. It was dark and rainy and windy, and they drove in silence. When they passed through towns, the High Streets glittered twice over, because the Christmas decorations, swaying in the wind, threw unsteady reflections onto the wet pavements. There were still lots of shoppers, even though it was getting late. Dora felt, crossly, as if everyone was having a good time apart from her, all because of her stupid Dad.


They stopped at a cross-roads where the traffic lights were red.

"That's funny," said Dora's Dad. "I've never noticed that shop before. It must have just opened."

On a corner on the other side of the cross-roads was a shop called Magical Puzzles.

"So what?" said Dora sulkily.

"Well," said her Dad, "I was just thinking that if there's a GameBox left anywhere, that's the kind of place that might have it. I mean, it's not one of the big chains. It's an independent place."

"I bet they won't."

"I think it's worth a try, though, don't you?"

"They won't have it, Dad. It'll just be a waste of time."

Dora's idea of a toy shop was somewhere huge and shiny, dazzlingly-lit, with a car park at the front, plate glass windows blazing with light, automatic doors, and aisle after aisle of toys inside, in brightly-coloured cardboard-and-plastic boxes, stacked up higher than she could reach, as seen on TV.

Nevertheless, when the traffic lights turned green, Dora's Dad drove to the far side of the cross-roads, parked his car and unbuckled his seatbelt. "Well," he said, "I'm going to have a look. Coming?"

"No, I'll stay here."

"Oh, Dora - come on. I don't like leaving you in the car on your own."

"I'll be all right. I don't want to go in that stupid shop."

"Well," said her Dad, "okay, it's only just across the road. You can always honk the horn if you need me. I don't even have to go inside - I can just stick my head through the door, and ask if they've got a GameBox. And you're probably right, really - they almost certainly won't have one."

"I don't know why you're bothering, then."

"I've just got a funny feeling about the place. It looks sort of lucky."

Dora glowered. It was just one more example of her Dad getting a stupid idea into his head, and refusing to be talked out of it.

He got out of the car and trotted across the road. She screwed herself round in her seat to watch him, and then she heard a movement from behind her. She screwed herself round a bit further, to look into the back of the car, and there was a boy sitting there.

"Hey!" she said. "What are you doing here?"

The boy just stared at her. "Whatjer mean?" he said.

"What are you doing here? What are you doing in the back of our car?"

"I've always been here," he replied.

"No you haven't!"

"Yes I have."

"No you haven't!"

"Yes I have."

"Do you mean you were there when I got in?"

"Yes," said the boy, "of course I was."

"Then how come I never saw you?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know," he said. "You must be a bit blind or something."

"Shut up! I am not a bit blind. And how come you never said anything?"

He shrugged his shoulders again. "I was being quiet."

It was funny, but she was already getting over her astonishment at finding him there. Perhaps it was because he didn't talk like somebody she'd only just met: he talked like somebody she'd known for ages. Perhaps he really had been there all the time.

"Well, what's your name?" she said.


"That's a funny name."

"No it's not! What's funny about it?"

"I've never met anyone called Adam before."

"Yes you have," said the boy. "You just don't know that you have. Anyway, it's no funnier than Dora."

It didn't cross her mind to wonder how he knew her name. "Well, Dora's not my real name," she said. "Dora's just what they call me for short. My real name's even funnier."

"What is it, then?"

"I'm not telling you."

"Oh, go on."

"No, I don't want to. Anyway," she said, "Dad's coming back."

Her Dad was just trotting back across the road. He'd got something wrapped up in tissue-paper.

“Have you got it?” she asked excitedly as he opened the door. “Is that it? Did they have one?”

“No, no,” said her Dad. “No, darling, I'm sorry, they didn't have one. This is something else. It's a present for you, but it isn't a GameBox.”

“What is it?”

“Well, I'm not going to tell you that, am I? You'll have to wait and find out. It was a marvellous shop, though, with all sorts of unexpected things in it. Not the usual mass-produced stuff at all. The shopkeeper was the strangest little man I've ever seen in my life.”

“Dad,” she said, “why didn't you tell me Adam was in the back of the car?”

“What?” he said, turning round. “Adam's in the back of the car? What are you talking about?”

Dora turned round too. The boy on the back seat had vanished.

“Honestly, Dora, you gave me such a turn.”

“But he was there, Dad! A boy called Adam! He was there just now! I was talking to him!”

“I think you must have fallen asleep and dreamt it,” said her Dad.


Every year, when she was looking forward to Christmas, Dora imagined that it was going to snow: but it never did. In Christmas cards, films, cartoons and adverts it was always snowy, but outside in the real world it was usually windy and rainy, like this year. Yet every year she forgot the truth about the weather, and went back to expecting snow again.

Another thing she forgot was that her Grandma always arrived on Christmas Eve and stayed until Boxing Day. In her imagination, Christmas consisted of herself and her Dad, lots of presents, lots of chocolate and a beautiful Christmas tree. In real life, Grandma was always there. She didn't go home until Boxing Day – and by that time Dora's Dad was back at work, up in his study, which meant that Dora mostly had to amuse herself for the rest of the holidays, reading books or watching television.

“Haven't you mended that porch light yet?” asked Grandma as soon as she arrived. “It's as black as pitch out there. I could have broken my ankle on that front step.”

“No, not yet,” admitted Dora's Dad as he kissed her hallo.

“Oh, Paul, honestly! That was broken on Fireworks Night, wasn't it?”

“Well, I haven't got round to it yet.”

“Can't you just get an electrician to do it?”

“Electricians cost a lot of money. It's much cheaper to do it yourself.”

“You can find money if you have to,” said Grandma. “You're always spending money on those computers of yours.”

“That's my job.”

“Well, I don't know why you can't just go and get yourself a proper job in an office somewhere, instead of trying to be independent all the time, and spending your whole life complaining about how hard up you are. And making Dora go without things too, I daresay,” she added, as her eye fell on Dora, who was standing in the doorway to the front room. “Hallo, Sweetheart, come and give your Grandma a nice Christmas kiss. I see that the house next door is being repaired again,” she added, after Dora had placed a kiss on her slightly-whiskery cheek.

Dora's house was part of a semi-detached pair, and the house next door was supposed to be available for rent too, but for one reason or another it was almost always empty. Occasionally tenants would be found for it, but they never lasted longer than a few weeks. They would move in with a great hustle and bustle, then start complaining of damp, cold draughts, leaking windows and failing electricity. Soon they would be moving out again. Dora had a theory that the place was haunted. At the moment the front of it was covered with scaffolding.

“What's the matter with it this time?” said Grandma.

“The gutters, the roof, one of the windows and a crack in the foundations,” said Dora's Dad.

“And the ghost,” said Dora.

Her Dad rolled his eyes and sighed.

“There's no such thing as a ghost, dear,” said Grandma. “But while the workmen are there, can't you get them to fix your porch light?”

“A roofer isn't going to want to fix my porch light,” said Dora's Dad.

“I don't see why not. And it wouldn't do you any harm to ask. But no, you've always got to do everything yourself, which means it never actually gets done. My goodness!” she exclaimed as she stepped into the front room. “What an enormous tree!”

“I think it's the biggest one we've ever had,” said Dora proudly. She had just been decorating it. It filled one corner of the room, and towered all the way up to the ceiling. The sharp, resinous smell of pine-needles was in the air.

“Well, I bet that cost a lot of money, for a start,” said Grandma. “I don't know how you can stand there and say you haven't got enough money for an electrician, if you can afford to buy yourself a great big Christmas tree like that.”

“Yes, Grandma. No, Grandma,” said Dora's Dad.

“I don't know why you don't just get yourself an artificial tree. These real ones make a terrible mess, dropping their needles all over the place, and then at the end of the holidays you have to throw them out. You spend all that money, and what have you got to show for it? Nothing. I can't see the sense in it myself.”


While Grandma went upstairs to unpack, Dora and her Dad laid the table.

“Grandma always tells you to get a proper job, doesn't she?” said Dora.

“Yes, she does.”

“You're never going to, though, are you?”

“I might have to, I'm afraid.”

Dora had never heard her Dad talk like that before.

“You wouldn't really, would you, Dad? Not really?”

“I don't want to, Dora, but I've got to be practical. We only just have enough money to live on. If anything breaks, like the television or the fridge, I'll be in terrible trouble.”

“But what would you do?”

“There's a job going in London,” said her Dad. “Working for a big creative agency.”

“What does that mean?”

“They make adverts, amongst other things.”

“But you hate adverts!”

“Well,” said her Dad, “I don't actually hate them. Not really.”

“Yes you do! You always say you do!”

“I don't actually hate them, Dora. I hate some of them. And they say I wouldn't have to work on anything unless I felt comfortable with it. The thing is, they've seen my stuff, and they like it, and they're offering me loads and loads of money. We could do all sorts of things with that kind of money. We could have proper holidays. I might even buy a house. I know that you feel like the odd one out sometimes, at school, because you haven't got all the things your friends have got. Well, if I got all this money, then you wouldn't be the odd one out any more.”

“I don't care about that!”

“Are you sure? You do seem to care about it sometimes. Anyway,” he said, “I didn't mean to say anything about this until after Christmas. Nothing's decided yet. Don't mention it in front of Grandma.”

“All right,” said Dora, and went back to laying out the knives and forks and spoons alongside the place mats on the special Christmas table cloth. There were lit candles on the table, and the candle light shone on the cutlery, china and glass. She had an odd sensation of unreality. It was exciting to think that they might suddenly have a lot of money; but it didn't seem quite right somehow.

“Would you like the thing that I bought in that funny little shop?” said her Dad unexpectedly.


“You know – that funny shop at the crossroads, where we stopped when I was bringing you home. Magic and Mysteries, or whatever it was called.”

“Magical Puzzles,” said Dora. “But you can't give it to me now. It isn't Christmas yet!”

“I know, but it wasn't exactly a Christmas present. I've already got you a Christmas present. This is sort of an extra, to make up for not getting you a GameBox.”

He was holding out something square, wrapped in dark green tissue-paper. She didn't know where he could have produced it from all of a sudden. She hadn't seen him go anywhere to fetch it, or even turn round to pick it up.

"You should have seen the man in the shop. He was really funny-looking. He wasn't any taller than you, I shouldn't think, but he had a great big nose and big ears, and really twinkly-looking eyes. And the shop was stuffed full of the loveliest old toys and puzzles you've ever seen. Lots of it was second hand. There were old games in there which I remember from when I was a boy. But I'd completely forgotten about most of them. It was so strange – it was almost as if he'd gone back in time and stolen them from my past.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Dora, unimpressed.

“I told him you really wanted a GameBox,” continued her Dad, “and he said I should give you this instead. He said it was a bit like a GameBox, but with only one game on it. It's a mystery or a puzzle, he said. You have to go on a sort of journey, and when you reach the end you can get back something that you've lost."


"I don't know what."

"But I haven't lost anything. And even if I had, how could playing a game get it back?"

"Well, never mind about that. Do you want to open it or not?”

Here was another thing that didn't seem quite right. Normally her Dad would never let her open any of her presents early: in fact he normally wouldn't even let her feel them, in case she guessed what they were. Why was he acting so differently all of a sudden?

“No, I don't want to open it now. I want to open it on Christmas Day. Put it underneath the tree, with the rest of them.”

“All right,” he said. And then they heard Grandma starting to come downstairs.


That night, however, Dora woke up and found herself thinking about the thing from the shop. She could visualise it underneath the tree, in its dark green tissue-paper, right at the front of all the presents which were labelled for her. It was about four inches square, or perhaps three inches by four, and about an inch deep. It was either a box, or something inside a box. And her Dad had said she could have it straight away if she wanted.

She couldn't sleep. Now that it had stopped raining, it was a brightly moonlit night, and although her curtains were shut quite a lot of the silvery moonlight came past them into her room. That was one thing which was helping to keep her awake. Another thing was that the heating had been turned up for Grandma's benefit, and her room was a bit too warm. She had to stick her feet out of the side of her duvet to keep them comfortable.

Outside, the wind was blowing, so that if she opened her eyes she could see branch-shadows from a big tree, wagging up and down across her curtains. She didn't mind the sound of the wind, but there were other noises too. The tree-branches were tapping together and squeaking. Grandma was snoring from the next room. And the radiators were making all sorts of clicking, tapping, rattling and gurgling noises, which she had forgotten about while she'd been at school.

Eventually she sat up. There was no point lying in bed if she couldn't sleep. She might as well go and have a look at the thing from the shop. Her Dad had said she could open it if she wanted to; and he didn't mind her getting up in the night for drinks of water and things if she needed them; so it was perfectly all right.

All the same, she crept, and she didn't switch any lights on, mainly because she didn't want to wake Grandma. The door to her bedroom was a quiet one, which swung open without a squeak, and she glided noiselessly into the passageway outside. To her left was the bathroom door; at the end of the passage, to her right, was the door to Grandma's room; and straight in front of her, up a small flight of steps, was the door to her Dad's room, which was also his study. He was obviously still awake, and probably working, because the door was slightly open, and the light inside was still on. He often worked late into the night.

Perhaps she'd better just make sure that he didn't mind her opening the present, she thought. She could just pop her head round the door and ask him, quietly, without waking Grandma.

She went up the stairs to his room, and pushed open his door, just in time to see something terrible happen. Her Dad was sitting at his desk, under the window, with his back towards her, working at his computer. To his left was the wall which separated this house from the house next door, and there was something black on it. At first Dora thought it must be a big spider; then that her Dad must have somehow splashed ink or black paint onto the wallpaper; but then she saw that the black shape was moving and growing bigger, and that it wasn't just a flat shape on the surface of the wall, it was bulging out of the wall, coming through the wall, reaching out two black arms or feelers towards her Dad. It happened so fast that she didn't have time to call out: all she could do was watch. It was a huge black beetle. It wrapped its front legs around her Dad, who didn't seem to struggle at all, or even notice what was happening to him: he just sat there and allowed himself to be caught, like a dummy figure stuffed with paper. Then the black beetle dragged him out of his seat and back into the wall through which it had come. It all happened so quickly that he almost seemed to be diving or throwing himself sideways, and the wall swallowed both him and the beetle up, as if it were made of liquid instead of solid bricks and white paint

As if she had been released from an immobilising spell, Dora lurched forward with a gasp – and found herself sitting upright in her own bed, with morning sunshine coming through the curtains.


“Breakfast is ready!” called Grandma from downstairs.

Dora got up, put on her dressing-gown, and went down. Grandma was serving up porridge, which Dora hated.

“Where's Dad?” she said.

“He's not here, darling. He's gone up to London. Don't you remember?”


“He did tell you – he came into your bedroom to tell you, late last night - but you were asleep, so perhaps you didn't take it in. He got one of those messages on his computer - “

“You mean an e-mail.”

“Yes, probably. Whatever those computer messages are called. Anyway, it came from some people in London who said they wanted him to come and do some work for them. An agency of some sort. He did tell me the name, but I'm not sure if I heard it properly. Horizon, I think it was. It might have been Arizona, but I think it was Horizon. Don't you even remember him coming into your room?”

“All I can remember is that I had a horrible dream, about something black in Dad's room, pulling him through the wall.”

“You must have got all muddled up about what he was saying when he woke you, and I expect it gave you a nightmare. Anyway: your Dad said the people in London were offering to pay him lots and lots of money, but they wanted him to come straight away. They couldn't even wait until the next morning. He had to drive straight there last night. They must be in a hurry to get something finished, I suppose. Perhaps they were called Arrizon. No, I'm almost sure it was Horizon. Sit down and eat your porridge, darling.”

"I don't really like porridge, Grandma."

"Ooh, nonsense. A big girl like you: you need something warm inside you on a cold winter's morning."

"But it isn't even all that cold."

"Well, you can't go running around outside without something warm in your tummy."

"I'm not going to go running around outside! It's all rainy and horrible out there!"

"Rubbish, Dora, you can't sit indoors all day long at your age. It isn't good for you. You need a bit of fresh air."

Dora sighed. “Did Dad say when he's coming back?” she said.

“I'm afraid he didn't know,” said Grandma. “He said he'd call us when he got the chance.”

“But what about Christmas?”

“Well, I know it's a shame,” said Grandma, “but life isn't all about holidays and treats, I'm afraid, Dora. Sometimes you have to make do without treats, if something important needs to be done. Your Dad's only trying to earn some money so that the two of you can live a better life. And not before time, if you ask me.” Then she came round the table and gave Dora a hug. “Don't look so disappointed, Sweetheart. Perhaps he will be back in time for Christmas. We'll get a phonecall later today, I expect, and then we'll have a better idea of what's happening. Anyway, you and I can still have a nice Christmas together, can't we?”

“Yes, Grandma,” said Dora, although she didn't really believe it.

“Anyway,” said Grandma, “he said you're not to open any of your presents until he gets back, except that he doesn't mind you playing with that special one he bought you yesterday. The one wrapped in dark green tissue-paper, he said. Now, come and have your porridge. Would you like brown sugar with it, or syrup?”