“Get it off him!” shouted Adam.

“What's it doing?” wailed Dora. “Is it sucking his blood?”

“Kill it! Kill it!” shouted Adam.

“Calm down, children,” said the Queen. “It isn't doing him any harm.”

Indeed, the beetle wasn't moving, although it flexed its jaws as if in surprise at the sudden removal of the sheet.

“But what's it doing here?” repeated Dora.

“I'm not sure,” admitted the Queen. “Remember, children, that the black beetle helped to free my husband, although it also tormented him. It means good things as well as bad, or bad things as well as good. But its meaning here is hidden from me.”

“I think it may have come to help us,” said Mr Blake.

They all looked at him.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but I have been struggling to remember something for quite a while, and now it has just come back to me. One of the cards in your box, Dora, showed a needle or a nail driven into the ground, with a length of thread or twine attached to it, and a loop at the free end of the thread.”

“Yes,” said Dora, “that's right.”

“Well,” said Mr Blake, “when I was a boy there was an old lady who had a reputation as a witch or a wise woman. I took an interest in her, and I once saw her perform a summoning-spell. She had lost some trinket or other and she wanted to find it, but she said it was a very ancient piece of magic, and it could also be used to summon lost people, or even the spirits of the dead. It involves a needle or a nail, a length of thread or twine, and a black beetle. You tie one end of the twine to the beetle, and the other end to the nail. Then, if you are lucky, the beetle starts to walk. As it walks, the thread winds around the nail, which makes it shorter and shorter. In the end the beetle touches the nail, and the thing or person you are summoning should appear.”

Adam and Dora stared at each other. To Dora, it sounded like one of the strangest pieces of nonsense she had ever heard: and by the look on Adam's face, he thought the same.

“It can't really work, can it?” he said incredulously.

“I have heard of it,” said the Queen. “As Mr Blake says, it is very old magic. I think we should try it. Adam – can you find a hammer and a nail?”

“But what about the thread?” asked Adam. “I don't think I've got any. I might have some string.”

“For thread,” replied the Queen, “I think we shall use some strands of Dora's hair, plaited together. This kind of magic always works better with personal materials.”


Adam fetched a hammer and a six-inch nail. As instructed by the Queen, Dora pulled nine hairs from her head, and plaited them together into a single long strand. It took a long time to do, because her fingers were so cold in the freezing house, but the Queen refused to help her. She said the magic would work better if Dora did it all by herself.

They shifted the bed out of the middle of the room until it was right underneath the window. Neither Dora's Dad nor the black beetle moved when they did this. Then Adam, instructed by Mr Blake, hammered the nail into the floor in the middle of the space they had cleared, and tied one end of the hair-twine to it as tightly as he could. He made a slip-knot on the other end.

“Now,” said Mr Blake. “The beetle.”

Adam, who was on his knees, sat back on his heels and dusted off his hands studiously. There was a silence. He looked up, and discovered that everyone was watching him.

“What are you all looking at me for?” he said.

“This is your house,” said the Queen. “The magic works best when it is personal.”

“But what about Dora? Can't it be personal to her? She can do it, can't she?”

“I'll do it if you like,” said Dora. “I don't mind. I'm a bit scared of the beetle, but – but it feels as if it ought to be you, Adam. There's something about you and the beetle, isn't there?”

“Yes,” retorted Adam, “there's something about me and the beetle. I'm scared of it, that's what. I don't want to touch it. I don't want to go anywhere near it. I don't even like being in the same room with it. I don't know why – it just makes me feel all funny inside – as if I was going to disappear into a hole. So that's a good reason for me having to pick it up and tie it on a piece of thread, is it? That makes me the best person, does it?”

“I'll do it if you like,” said Dora. “It's up to you.”

Adam gave a loud sigh. “No,” he said, “I'll do it. If I don't do it, and the spell doesn't work, then I'll feel as if it's my fault, won't I? So now I'll have to do it. Just don't ask me to do anything else, that's all.”

He got up, and rubbed his hands on his front to dry them; then stepped towards the bed; then dried his hands again. He cleared his throat, and took a deep breath.

“Okay, beetle,” he said in a shaky voice. “I'm going to pick you up. Don't move. Don't do anything horrible. Don't wave your legs about or anything.”

The beetle didn't move. Adam reached out, hesitated, and took hold of it by the edges of its shell. He lifted it up. It did wave its legs when he did that, and opened and closed its pincers too. He made a kind of whining, whimpering noise and almost dropped it, but turned from the bed with it still in his hands, hurried to the middle of the room, and put it down next to the nail.

The beetle immediately started to march back towards the bed.

“Quickly!” said Dora. “Tie it on the thread!”

“Give me a hand!” cried Adam, picking up the beetle and putting it back.

Dora rushed to help him. He held up the beetle with its legs waving in the air again. She held up the slip-knot on the end of the thread, slipped it over the beetle's head, down past its first pair of legs, and pulled it tight round its shell, so quickly that she almost didn't have time to think what she was doing. Then the beetle was back on the floor again, marching: but this time, because of the thread, it was marching round and round the nail.

“Well done, children,” said the Queen, and Mr Blake clapped his hands gravely.

“What do we do now?” said Adam shakily.

“Nothing,” said the Queen. “We must wait until the thread winds short and the beetle touches the nail.”

“And then what?” said Dora.

“Then we shall see,” said the Queen.

“Well,” said Adam, “at least I've done the worst bit. I've picked up the beetle. There can't be anything worse than that.”

“Mr Blake,” said Dora, “what happened to your wise woman when she used this spell? Did she find the thing she'd lost?”

“I'm afraid I didn't stay until the end,” said Mr Blake. “As you will observe, it takes a long time for the beetle to wind itself all the way to the nail. I was supposed to be elsewhere – my studies, or my supper. So I was obliged to leave without seeing the whole thing.”

“But didn't you ask the woman afterwards?” said Dora.

“Yes, I did. I believe she found the thing she was looking for; but if I remember correctly, she had to give up something else in order to get it. It was many years ago, but I think that's what she told me. To get back the thing she had lost, she was obliged to sacrifice something else of value.”

“The old magic often works in that way,” said the Queen. “Everything has its price.”

“But what's going to happen to my Dad?” said Dora. “Will we have to pay some kind of price to get him back?”

“Wait and see,” said the Queen.

Dora stared at the beetle, which was completing its first circuit around the nail. The elation she had felt when she managed to get the thread fastened round it was now disappearing fast. Would she ever get her Dad back? Were there going to be more and more complications every time she made the attempt?

They waited and waited. The beetle walked, then stopped, then walked again. Gradually it was getting closer to the nail, but it seemed to take forever. It was freezing cold, and nobody had anything to say. Dora sat shivering on the edge of the bed, next to the unmoving body of her Dad. She felt as if she was in the grip of an icy nightmare. The moon went down, and the room became pitch black, until Adam, fumbling on the mantelpiece, lit a stump of candle, filling the room with unsteady light and wavering shadows. The window, which had previously been flooded with moonlight, was now a pattern of dark squares in the wall, with glossy reflections swimming in their depths. The beetle was a squat black shape half-swallowed by its own shadow, marching slowly onwards, the thread stretching from its shell. It was almost at the nail now, but it didn't seem to be getting any closer: almost at the nail, but never going to arrive...

“The sun is coming up,” said the Queen. “It's Christmas Day.”

It was the first time anybody had spoken for ages. Adam, who had been sitting on the bed next to Dora, walked stiffly to the mantelpiece and blew out the candle-stump. The window-panes turned from black to grey, and a little colour came leaking into the room.

“He's there!” said Adam.

Dora looked down, and saw that the beetle had finally reached the nail.

“I mean, he's at the door,” said Adam.

Dora looked at the bedroom door: and there was her Dad, standing silently on the threshold, as if unsure whether to come in or not.

“Dad!” she cried. She jumped up, and was about to run towards him, but the Queen's hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“Wait,” said the Queen.

“Why?” said Dora, and felt an icy sensation in her chest again. “What is it?” She looked at her Dad. He seemed somehow faint and far away. “Why doesn't he say anything? Why doesn't he come in?”

“He cannot cross the threshold unless someone goes out to meet him,” said the Queen.

Dora laughed with relief. “Well, that's easy,” she said. “I'll go.”

“No, I'll go,” said Adam. He looked at the Queen. “It's meant to be me, isn't it? This is my house. And I knew something would happen to me because of that beetle. I've known it all along.”

The Queen nodded.

“Adam,” said Dora, “wait.”

But Adam walked across the room.

“Hallo, Dad,” he said.

“Hallo, Adam,” said his Dad.


There was a lurch. Dora opened her eyes and sat up straight with a jolt. For a moment she couldn't work out where she was. People were getting up from their seats, collecting their carrier-bags, forming a queue in the aisle. Her Dad, next to her, was yawning and rubbing his face. He wiped steam from the glass and peered through the window, to check the name of the station.

“Come on,” he said. “We're here - Great Ashbridge. Good job we woke up.”

He pulled her cases down from the luggage-rack.

“Have we got everything? Got your book? Okay – come on.”

She was reading The Box of Delights, for the third or fourth time. She tucked it into her coat pocket, and they joined the shuffling queue of people, out through the train door, onto the wet platform, then up the steps to the exit.

“We must have fallen asleep almost as soon as we got on board that train,” said her Dad. “I suppose it's because it's dark, and we'd been waiting in the cold, and then we got sat down somewhere nice and warm. I was having the wierdest dream.”

“So was I,” said Dora.

Outside the station it was dark and windy and raining, and the High Street was glittering twice over, because the Christmas decorations, swaying backwards and forwards in the wind, cast unsteady reflections onto the wet pavements.

“I kept dreaming that I was lost,” said Dora's Dad as they walked to the bus stop. “It was like I was stuck in London or somewhere, and I was trying to find my way home for Christmas, but I just kept getting loster and loster instead. There was a funny little man with me – except that some of the time he was more like a squirrel or a mouse – and I couldn't work out if he was trying to help me or just playing tricks on me. Sometimes I was wandering around the streets in London, and sometimes I was in this big building with lots of corridors, and sometimes I was wandering around in the branches of a huge tree – that was when the funny little man turned into a squirrel – and sometimes I was inside the tree, or underneath it, in all these tunnels or passages – and that was when the funny little man turned into a mouse. Then at the end of the dream I was back home, standing in the doorway to my bedroom, and you were there, and some other people were there as well, and I kept trying to get in through the doorway but I couldn't do it. Something was holding me back. And in the middle of the bedroom floor was a big black beetle. That was really odd. Then right at the end, this boy came walking across and said hallo to me – I seemed to know him, and in fact he looked a bit like you – and as soon as he spoke to me it was all right, and I could get into the room. That was when I woke up.”

The bus shelter was full, so they stood in the doorway to a baker's shop to keep out of the rain.

“There was a boy in my dream too,” said Dora. “And a funny little man.”

“Was there really? What an odd coincidence.”

“Dad,” said Dora, “did you ever know a boy called Adam?”

Her Dad stared at her. “Yes, I did once,” he said. “How strange! I was just thinking about him. But you never knew him, Dora. So what makes you ask?”

“That's what the boy in my dream was called.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Go on, then,” persisted Dora. “Who was the one that you knew?”

“He was your twin brother,” said her Dad.

“Oh!” said Dora. “What do you mean? I never had a twin brother!”

“Yes you did,” said her Dad. “But he died almost straight away when you were born.”

“Oh!” said Dora again.

“I'm sorry, sweetheart,” said her Dad. “It's rather a sad story.”

“What did he die of?”

“Well, both of you were born early,” said her Dad, “and you were both in incubators. It was touch and go whether you'd live. The doctors told us they couldn't make any promises. And in the end, you were all right, but poor Adam died. I thought I was going to lose both of you at one point, so I count my blessings really. But I still think about him, almost every day, and wonder what he would have been like.”

“He would have been nice,” said Dora.

“Yes, I expect he would,” said her Dad, and squeezed her hand.

“But why didn't you ever tell me about him?”

Her Dad sighed.

“I don't know,” he said. “I should have done. It's wrong to keep things like that locked up inside. But you had enough to worry about, with your Mum being ill. The time never seemed to be right. I'm glad it's come out now, though. I've always meant to tell you. It's funny you having a dream about a boy called Adam, isn't it? You must have heard the name from somewhere. There's nobody called Adam in The Box of Delights, is there?”

“I don't think so,” said Dora.

“Perhaps you overheard me and Grandma talking some time.”

“Dad,” said Dora.


“How old would he be, if he was alive now?”

“Well,” said her Dad, “he was your twin, wasn't he, you dimbo? How old do you think he'd be?”

“Oh, yes!” said Dora.

“Cor blimey,” said her Dad, and they both started laughing. At the end of the laugh, her Dad had to blow his nose and wipe his eyes, and she wasn't sure if it was because of the laugh or because he was sad. She might have asked him, but just then the bus came.


“I'd better warn you,” said her Dad, when they were on the bus, “that I haven't been able to get you a GameBox.”

“Oh, Dad!” said Dora. “How come?”

“I didn't realise how expensive they were, for a start,” 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?”

“No,” said Dora. “That's okay.”

“Phew!” said her Dad. “I wasn't expecting you to take it so calmly. I thought you'd go bonkers, in fact. Aren't all your friends getting GameBoxes? Won't you be the odd one out?”

“Oh, I don't care,” said Dora.

“Well, good for you!”

“Didn't you get me something extra to make up for it, though?”

“You cheeky blighter! As a matter of fact I did. I picked something up on my way to collect you.”

“Can I see it straight away?” said Dora.

“Even cheekier! Don't you think you should wait until Christmas?”

“Well, it isn't exactly a Christmas present, is it? It's something extra. You said so yourself.”

“Oh, all right,” said her Dad, reaching into his coat pocket. “But don't get your hopes up. It isn't anything very special: in fact it isn't even new. I got it in a funny little second-hand shop, run by a funny little man. Now that I come to think of it, he was rather like the funny little man in that dream I was having.”

From his pocket he produced a small oblong package wrapped in dark green tissue-paper.

Dora unwrapped it quickly. It was a wooden box. She opened it, and inside it was a pack of playing cards. She took them out. There was nothing in the bottom of the box. The playing cards were just ordinary playing cards, except that they all had an unusual design on the back: a young man throwing out his arms in a burst of multicoloured light.

“That's one of my favourite pictures,” said her Dad. “It's called 'Glad Day', and it's by William Blake. It's a funny design for a pack of playing cards, but the odd thing is that I used to have a pack just like that when I was a boy, and I used to keep them in a box just like that too. I've no idea what happened to them – I suppose I left them behind when I moved away from home, and Grandma probably gave them to a jumble sale or something. These might even be the very same ones, for all I know. It gave me quite a turn when I found them in that shop.”

“Huh,” said Dora. “So you really bought this present for yourself, then.”

“Why, don't you like it? I'll have it back if you don't.”

“No,” she said, “I'll keep it.”

Shortly afterwards they arrived home. Their own house was in darkness, except for a light in the bathroom upstairs: but the house next door was lit up, with a Christmas star hanging in the front window.

“Dad!” said Dora. “There are people in the house next door!”

“Oh yes,” said her Dad, as the bus drove away. “Didn't I tell you? They've been in for about three weeks. A nice couple with two kids. There you are: I told you the place wasn't haunted.”


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 came on Christmas Eve and stayed until Boxing Day.

“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.” Dora dutifully placed a kiss on her slightly-whiskery cheek.

“Well, actually,” said Dora's Dad thoughtfully, “I've been thinking about that.”

“Thinking about what?” said Dora.

He hesitated. "Oh - nothing," he said. "Never mind."

"No, go on, Dad, what were you going to say? You've got to tell us!"

“Well - I've been thinking about getting a proper job, like Grandma says. I wasn't going to say anything about it until after Christmas, but there's a job going in London, working for a big creative agency. 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!” said Dora.

“Are you sure? You do seem to care about it sometimes. And the thing is,” he went on, “the special grant which pays for you to be at that school runs out in the summer. If I don't get some extra money somehow, I won't be able to keep you there.”

“Well,” said Grandma, “I think it's a jolly good thing. It's about time you started living in the real world, Paul. You've got responsibilities, and you ought to take them seriously. You can't be a dreamer all your life. A man of your age ought to be putting his talents to proper use. And you must keep Dora in that good school of hers: there's nothing more important than your daughter's education.”

“I don't want you to do it!” cried Dora impetuously.

“What do you mean?” said her Dad.

“I don't want you to take that job, and I don't want you to go and work in London! You wouldn't like it, you'd end up having to do things you hated, and then everything would be horrible. I want you to keep working at home, doing the things you like, just the same as you always have.”

“But what about your school?” said her Dad. “You heard what I said just now. I can't afford to keep you there if I don't get some extra money.”

“I don't care!” exclaimed Dora. “I don't really like anybody at that school anyway. They're all stuck up, and I'm tired to trying to keep up with them. I'll come and live here with you, and go to the Heronsbrook school instead.”

Her Dad stared at her. “Well, that's a turn-up,” he said.

“I think it's a jolly good thing," said Grandma. "A family ought to be together: especially this family, after all the things you've been through. And I've never been very keen on these private schools.”

“But Grandma,” protested Dora's Dad, “I thought you were just saying that I'd got to keep Dora in that good school of hers, and there was nothing more important than my daughter's education.”

“Nonsense, Paul,” said Grandma firmly. “Family is the most important thing. That's what I've always said, and I always will. Now for goodness' sake make me a cup of tea. And I hope it's not going to be too long until we eat: I'm used to having my evening meal at six, not midnight like some people.”


That night, when Dora went up to bed, she got out the wooden box, extracted the cards, and spread them out on her duvet. They were just ordinary playing cards, some of them with slightly unusual designs. The wooden box was just an ordinary wooden box. There was nothing magical about it - except that she felt a special, secret tingling inside when she handled it.

She packed everything away again, and switched out the light.

“Hallo, Adam,” she said. “I know you're there.”

There was silence: but in the silence, she felt as if she could hear a voice saying, Of course I'm here. I've been here all the time.