Grandma always insisted on watching the news: it was one of the things that made her visits such hard going.

“Do we have to watch this, Grandma?” said Dora.

“Yes, Dora. Be quiet.”

“But it's so boring!”

“Shush, Dora. You can have one of your programmes in a minute.”

If only, thought Dora, she'd had a television in her own room, like lots of her friends at school, it wouldn't have been a problem; but she didn't. Perhaps Dad'll buy me one when he gets all this money, she thought.

According to the man on the news, it wasn't going to be a white Christmas this year: in fact some scientists thought that there might never be another white Christmas in England, because of global warming. The air all over the world was getting warmer because of all the cars and airoplanes; and lots of forests, which could have helped to cool it off again, were being cut down by poor people. The poor people wanted to cut down the trees and clear the land so they could dig mines or start farms and make some money; but even once the forests had been cut down, most of the poor people just kept getting poorer, because the banks and big businesses took all the profits.

The banks and big businesses got richer and richer; the poor people got poorer and poorer; and the air all over the world kept getting warmer and warmer – so there might not be any white Christmases any more – just lots of rain and lots of floods.

Once Dora actually started to listen to the news it wasn't quite as boring as she'd expected, but it certainly wasn't very much fun. Everything seemed to be going wrong, and nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. It felt as if all the brightness and liveliness was being sucked out of the world, and soon there would be nothing left but a horrible stale muddle. She didn't want to listen any more. She could have gone upstairs to play on her computer, but somehow she couldn't summon the energy to get off the couch.

“I don't believe in all this global warming nonsense,” said Grandma, crossing her arms stubbornly.

“But they teach us about it at school,” said Dora.

“Well, I still don't believe it.”

There was a man on the television from a big business called the Urizen Corporation, and he didn't believe it either. “There's still no proof,” he said. “We know that the weather is getting warmer, but we don't really know why. It could easily cool down again in a year or two.”

“There you are,” said Grandma.

“But here at the Urizen Corporation,” said the man, “we try to be environmentally responsible. That's why for every airoplane engine we make, we plant an oak tree; and for every car we sell, we rehabilitate a marmoset. We're also working on genetically modified oil seed plants, which can produce pollution-free fuel to power the cars and planes of the future. The first plantations are being set up right now, alongside the Amazon River in Brazil, where the rainforests used to be.”

Luckily the telephone rang, and Grandma had to go and answer it. As soon as she was out of the room, Dora changed the channel.


“That was your father,” said Grandma, coming back in a few minutes later.

“Is he coming home?”

“Not yet, darling. He says he doesn't know quite how long this job is going to take.”

“Shall I go and speak to him?”

“I'm afraid you can't, Dora. He isn't on the phone any more. He had to go.”

“What?” said Dora unbelievingly. “Didn't he want to talk to me? He always talks to me!”

“He sounded ever so busy. I think they're really rushing to get this big job finished – whatever it is he's working on. But don't worry, Darling,” said Grandma, “because you'll be able to speak to him face to face soon. They're sending a car to fetch you.”

“Who are?”

“The people he's working for. This creative agency, or whatever it is.”

“They're sending a car for me?”

“Yes, Dora. It'll probably be here soon.” Dora was still in her pyjamas. “You'll have to be quick: have a wash, get changed, brush your hair, and have a bit of breakfast.”

“But I don't understand, Grandma. Why are they sending a car for me?”

“Well, I don't really know anything about it, Dora. I don't even know what they're doing – making an advert or something, as far as I can make out. Anyway, whatever it is, your Dad said they needed to get the opinions of some children, to see if children would like it or not. Children's approval rating, he called it. So he suggested your name, because he thought you'd enjoy a day out in London. He said he thought it would be a treat for you, and they'll probably give you a free gift or something as a sort of payment.”

“What does he mean? A toy, or a video-game or something?”

“I'm afraid I don't know, Dora. I can only tell you what he said. He said you might get a free gift.”

Dora didn't particularly like the idea of being driven to London all by herself, but she supposed it must be all right if it was her Dad's idea, and she did like the sound of the free gift; so she went upstairs to get ready. She had only just finished brushing her hair when she heard Grandma calling up to her:

“Dora! The car's here!”


The front door was open, and Grandma was standing alongside it, ready to kiss Dora goodbye. “The lady in the car says would you like to take anything along to pass the time on the journey,” she said.

“No, I'll be all right. I'll look out of the window.”

“Why don't you take that special present from your Dad?” prompted Grandma. “The one in the dark green tissue-paper.”

“No, I'll leave it here, Grandma. I might lose it if I take it with me.”

“Well, all right.” Grandma gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Have a lovely time. I'll see you this evening, I expect.”

Outside was a black car of a type Dora had never seen before. It was bigger than an ordinary car; almost the size of a mini-bus; powerful-looking, bulbous and gleaming, with small high-up windows. The back door was open, ready for Dora to get in, and when she did so she found herself next to a woman wearing tight trousers and a lot of makeup. She was very pretty, but Dora thought she was trying to look a lot younger than she really was.

“Hi, Laura,” said the woman.

“Dora,” said Dora.

“Oh, right – Dora,” said the woman. “What did I say? Did I say Laura? What a dork!” She burst into a peal of slightly-artificial laughter. “I'll forget my own name next! It's Natasha, by the way. Call me Natty. Everyone does.”

There was a partition between the front of the car and the back, like the partition in a taxi, separating the driver from the passengers; but instead of having glass in it, this partition was solid.

“So,” gushed Natasha as the car started to glide along the country roads, faster and faster but almost completely without engine noise, “you're the daughter of the famous genius.”

“Who, my Dad?”

“Oh, yes. We think he's going to do great things for us, Dora. Great things. We're so glad he decided to come aboard. He might have to make a few adjustments – but we really think he's going to be a big success. A smash hit. He's already brought a lot of new ideas into the company. We're always on the lookout for new ideas, Dora, anything original and fresh. When we find something original and fresh out there, we like to snap it up.”

“Right,” said Dora, who couldn't recognise her Dad at all from Natasha's description of him. “And am I going to see him when I get to London?”

“Well,” said Natasha, “we might have to take a raincheck on that. He's right in the middle of a very busy project. A big big job. It's very important to us, and we've got lots of people working on it, flat out, trying to get it finished in time for Christmas. But don't you worry, Dora, you're going to have a lot of fun. We'll make sure of that. Now, let's get down to some business.”

She produced a laptop computer, opened it up, and started to tap the keys. “Tell me, what kind of thing do you like to do in your spare time?”

“I don't know,” said Dora. “Anything.”

“What sort of thing, though? Watching telly? Music? Games?”


“You like all of those, do you?”


“Okay, let's concentrate on games for a minute. What sort of games do you like?”

“All sorts.”

“Computer games? Video games?”


“Were you hoping to get any particular games for Christmas this year?”

“My Dad was meant to be getting me a GameBox.”

“Yesss!” said Natasha, clenching her fist as if she'd just scored a goal. “I'm so glad you said that! That's one of our products, you know. I mean, we don't make it ourselves, not in our part of the company, but we designed the packaging and the promotion. I worked on the GameBox campaign myself. Have you seen the GameBox adverts?”


“You know the one with the wings?”

“Oh yeah,” said Dora.

“I worked on that one.”

Dora felt slightly uncomfortable. She could remember her Dad complaining long and hard about that particular advert. It was one of the ones he really hated.

“It was a huge success,” said Natasha. “GameBox has completely sold out.”

“I know,” said Dora.

“Oh, I remember,” said Natasha. “Your Dad said he couldn't get you a GameBox, because they were all gone, so he had to get you something else instead. He said he picked up an alternative present in a small specialist toyshop. I don't suppose, by any chance, you happened to bring it along with you?”


“The toy. The alternative present, the one he got you instead of the GameBox. He described it to us a little bit, and it sounded very interesting. I'd quite like to have a look at it. As I said before, we're always on the lookout for new ideas. Did you bring it with you?”

“No,” said Dora, “I didn't want to lose it.”

“Oh, right. Very sensible. Clever girl.” Rather abruptly, she snapped her laptop computer shut. “Well, I think that's about all for the moment. I'll just go and have a word with the driver. You don't mind being left by yourself for a bit, do you? There are some snacks and drinks in the fridge.”

Unclipping her seatbelt, she got up, opened a panel in the partition which separated the back of the car from the front, and stepped through it. When it snapped shut behind her, the door became completely invisible. There was no sign of its hinges or edges, let alone of any handle, keyhole or latch.


It was only at this point that Dora realised how quietly the car was travelling. It was making nothing but a low humming noise. And she couldn't hear any other traffic going by. She was sitting in the middle of the back seat, and the car windows seemed to have got higher up. They were above the top of her head. She didn't remember them being that high when she got in. All she could see through them was blue sky, clouds, and the occasional bird. No tops of trees, telegraph-poles or chimneys.

Following Natasha's example, she unclipped her seatbelt and got up. The car was so big that her head was still nowhere near the roof. She had to stand on the seat in order to look out of the window. When she did so, she found herself gasping for breath, as if the ground had been snatched away from under her. And in a manner of speaking it had been, because the car wasn't driving along the road any more: it was hundreds of feet up in the air. She could feel all that empty space yawning below her feet: she could almost feel herself tumbling into it: it made her legs feel hot and weak and her stomach cold and watery. The landscape was spread out like a map. A patchwork of fields was just giving way to the grey-and-glittering jumble of a big town.

When Dora was little and her Mum was ill, her Dad took her to London to visit her Mum in the hospital. The hospital was a great big skyscraper, and her Mum's room was on one of the upper floors. They had to go up in a lift, and she didn't like it. The higher the lift went, the harder her heart thumped, and the dryer her mouth got. When they reached the right floor and went into her Mum's room, there was a big plate-glass window, and far below them was the river. She didn't remember anything about how her Mum looked, but she remembered being scared of the height, and she'd been scared of heights ever since.

She jumped down, reseated herself, and refastened her safety-belt with trembling fingers. She wished somebody had been there to keep her company. She especially wished her Dad had been there, so she could hold hands – but even Natasha would have done, although she didn't seem particularly nice.


She was thinking of calling out: but just then there was an electronic popping noise, as if something had been switched on, and a man's voice – perhaps it was the voice of the driver – coming through some kind of speaker system:

“Passengers are requested to resume their seats and fasten their safety belts. We will soon be arriving at corporation headquarters. Please resume your seats and fasten your safety belts.”

“We'd better get out of here,” said someone else, from her right.

She almost jumped out of her skin.

“Who's that?”

She turned. On the back seat next to her, in the corner, was Adam.

“It's me, of course,” he said.

Dora could hardly believe her eyes.

“Where did you come from?”

“I didn't come from anywhere. I've been here all the time.”

“No you haven't!”

“Yes I have.”

“But you can't have been!”

“Now, come on,” he said, “don't start that again. We haven't got much time.”

“Much time for what?”

“Didn't you hear what I said? I said we've got to get out of here! We've got to escape!”

“Hang on,” said Dora. “Wait a minute. Escape from what? This is a day out. It's been organised by my Dad, and the people he's working for. I can't just go running off. He'd be really cross. And anyway, he's probably waiting for me.”

“Are you sure it was organised by your Dad?” said Adam.

“Yes, of course I am.”

“Did you actually speak to him?”

“Well, no – he spoke to Grandma.”

“And he didn't even ask to talk to you?”

“No, he didn't.”

“Isn't that a bit odd?”

“Yes, it is. But Grandma said he was ever so busy.”

“Well, personally I don't believe a word of it. Your Grandma says he's gone up to London, but he never said goodbye to you and you didn't see him go. What you did see was him being dragged through the wall by a big black beetle -”

“How do you know about that?” shouted Dora. “That was just a nightmare!”

“Oh no it wasn't!”

“Do you mean he never went up to London at all?”

“Maybe a part of him went,” said Adam. “But not all of him. I can tell you that for sure, because I've got the shadow of him lying on the bed in my house.”

Dora's head was spinning by this time. What had happened to her Dad? Had he been kidnapped? Was he all right? “The shadow of him?” she said in a bewildered voice. “I don't understand. I don't know what you mean.”

“I'll show you when we get back. Don't worry: I think he's all right. At least, I think he is. He's just asleep. I think we've got to work out how to wake him up.”

“But, wait a minute,” said Dora, still trying to make sense of what he was saying. “If he isn't really in London – or if he didn't really organise this trip – who called Grandma on the telephone? Who sent this car? Who does Natasha work for, and the driver?”

“Aha,” said Adam, significantly: “that's the question.”

“Yes – well - what's the answer?”

“Don't know,” said Adam. “But I do know what they're after.”


“That box.”

“What box?”

“You know. The box. The present. The puzzle from that little shop. This box,” he said, and he held out something square wrapped in dark green tissue paper.

“Hey!” cried Dora. “What are you doing with that?”

“I thought I'd better bring it along. I thought it might be safer to have it with us. So that we'd know where it was. And I also thought it might have something inside that could help us.”

“Give it to me!” said Dora. “It's mine!”

“Yes, all right. But if it wasn't for me, you might have already lost it by now.”

“No I wouldn't.”

“I bet you would.”

“No I wouldn't. It was perfectly safe, underneath the Christmas tree. Have you been playing with it, or looking at it?” she added accusingly.

“No, of course I haven't. As if I would... I mean... I may have sneaked a peek, to be honest. In fact I did have a little look, yes.”

“Oh, Adam! That's not fair! It's not your present, it's mine!”

She snatched it out of his hands, and unwrapped the dark green tissue paper. It was a plain wooden box, with a hinged lid.

“What's inside it?” she asked.

“Open it up, and find out,” advised Adam.

She opened the lid. The inside of the box was divided into two halves, and each half contained cards. On the left hand side were red cards with yellow lettering on them, which said “Help”; and on the right hand side were blue cards with red lettering on them, which said “Clue”.

“Help cards and clue cards,” said Adam.

“But this is just a game,” said Dora. She took out the clue cards and started to turn them over. Each of them had a picture on the other side.


They showed:

  • an old man with a streaming white beard, leaning out of a cloud, with what looked like lightning coming from his outstretched hand;
  • a man's face, made out of leaves and branches, which Dora thought she recognised from somewhere;
  • an angel with a sword, and a man and woman with no clothes on, standing in front of an apple-tree;
  • Father Christmas – but wearing a green outfit instead of the usual red one;
  • a man holding a torch, standing next to a woman holding a pot;
  • a snake biting its own tail; and lastly
  • a man lying flat on his back, with a snake twined round him and an angel with a long beard flying over him – and this gave Dora a shock, because the man's face was like her Dad's.

“It's Dad!” she said. “The man on that card looks like my Dad!”

“I know,” said Adam.

“But how can it be? If it's just a game, how can it have my Dad in it?”

The car banked over steeply to the left. Her stomach gave a lurch. They were slowing and descending. Then the sound system gave another pop, and a man's voice said

“We will shortly be landing at corporation headquarters. Please remain seated.”

“Oh,” said Dora, “we're here.”

“Try one of the help cards,” said Adam urgently.

“But it's too late, isn't it?”

“Try one of them – quick!”

Dora turned over the top help card. On the other side of it was a picture of a house. For a moment she struggled with a vague sense of familiarity - but then she recognised it. The porch – the front door – the shape of the windows. It was the front of her Dad's house. Then - was it a trick of the light? - no, she really had seen it - something in the picture was moving. Inside the window on the ground floor the net curtain was being hitched to one side, and she saw her Grandma's face. Grandma was peering out, as if she'd heard something and wanted to know what it was. Then she seemed to be staring straight out of the picture at Dora. She started to smile and wave.

“This is the wierdest thing,” said Dora.

She felt as if she were being sucked into the picture - or rather the picture was becoming more real, and the car less so. She could tell that the car had landed. There was a bump, and a sensation of slowing, but they didn't seem to belong to the here-and-now. It was like being woken up from a dream: everything which had seemed completely real just a few seconds earlier now seemed bizarre and insubstantial. She could feel fresh air against her face. With a click, the panel in the partition which separated the front of the car from the back began to open. But it was too late. Dora was walking up her Dad's front drive, and Grandma was opening the front door.


“Hallo, sweetheart,” said Grandma. “Did you have a lovely time?”

Dora looked around. The black car was gone.

“Yes, thank you, Grandma.”

“Did they drop you off just up the road? I didn't see the car.”

“Yes, just up the road,” said Dora.

“Did you decide to take that special present with you in the end?” said Grandma. “I thought you were going to leave it under the Christmas tree.”

“No, I've got it here,” said Dora. The box was in her hand, wrapped up in its dark green tissue-paper again.

“Did you lose it, then?” said Grandma.

“Why? What makes you think that?”

“Well, two men called for it after you left. They came in another one of those great big cars. They said you hadn't got the special present with you, and you wanted to play with it, so they'd come to collect it and take it to you. Only when we looked under the Christmas tree, of course, it wasn't there. So I gathered you must have taken it with you, and then lost it.”

“I didn't exactly lose it,” said Dora. “I just got a bit muddled about where it was.”