AN- Well hello everyone! It's me again, it has sure felt like a long time since I have done one of these. But now I have fixed my laptop and finished my mock exams, I am ready to write again. So here we go...

Chapter 1

The advert in the newspaper was short and to the point.

Wanted, reader. Reliable, responsible. Flexible hours.

That's me, Flaky thought when she saw it. She hadn't discovered any great hidden talents about herself yet. But she could read. She was reliable. And she could use the extra money.

When Flaky answered the advert, the woman on the phone had a cool, clipped voice, but Flaky thought that she heard a hint of relief in it. Maybe nobody else had called about the job.

Drive up the cliff road. When you can't go and further, you're there. It's the Randolph house.

It was grey and foggy when Flaky left her own house and drove through the streets of Happy Tree Town. Almost every morning since she'd moved there had been grey and foggy. This Monday was no exception.

Flaky had been furious when her parents decided to move. All her friends were back in Cherry Tree Town. She'd asked -begged- to stay behind and live with one of these friends, just until she finished college. No deal.

So she was a stranger in a strange town. She'd be a stranger when school started in September. She would be friendless. She wouldn't belong.

When Flaky finally saw the house, she stopped and stared. Its pale grey stone walls seemed to be built from the wisps of fog that still clung to the ground around it. It was three stories tall, and stood close to the edge of the cliffs over looking the town.

Even though it was June, Flaky shivered. The house was something out of a horror movie. A bad horror movie.

Flaky tightened her grip on the wheel of the car and looked around. Ahead, between two flat-topped pillars, she could see the front of the house. A short, U-shaped drive ran up to the wide front door. It was black and shiny, with a big stone pot on each side. The pots were empty. They needed flowers or ivy in them. Something alive.

The woman had told Flaky to drive to the back. What she really wanted to do was turn and leave. It was too eerie here.

Shake it off, she told herself. You need the job. You need something to do besides sit around in an empty house, feeling sorry for yourself because you had to move. She drove forward.

She didn't see the other car until it was almost too late.

Bright red, it shot out between the grey pillars like a torch, missing Flaky's front bumper by inches.

Hitting the horn and the brakes at the same time, Flaky swerved to a stop.

The red car didn't even slow down. Flaky caught a glimpse of the driver behind the wheel- his lips parted as if he was yelling at her; his face partially covered by black sunglasses. A spray of gravel rattled, and then the car was gone, swerving round the bend in the road.

Shaken and furious, Flaky leaned her head back and took a deep breath.

It wasn't a good omen.

Maybe she should just forget about it and go home, now.

No, she thought stubbornly. No!

Still angry, she drove between the pillars and down the curved, tree-lined drive around the back of the house. In a wide parking area next to a triple garage, she pulled to a stop alongside a dark-green pickup truck loaded with gardening tools.

Flaky got up and looked around. The back of the house had tall windows that looked out on a stone terrace with a waist high wall. On top of that wall was a black and white cat, lying on it's back. When Flaky slammed her car door, the cat turned onto its stomach to watch her.

Steps from the terrace led down to a sloping green lawn. Beyond, a thick tangle of trees seemed to go on forever. Wisps of fog drifted like smoke through the trees. It was very quiet.

Too quiet.

Out of the corner of her eye, Flaky saw a shadow move across the windows. She turned, then jumped as a high pitch whine suddenly cut through the silence. The cat came to life, springing from the wall and streaking round the corner of the house. Forgetting about the shadow at the window, Flaky spun around and saw a man trimming a hedge on the far side of the lawn.

Stop letting this place get to you, Flaky told herself.

Feeling foolish for spooking so easily, Flaky smoothed back her hair. She walked up the white flagstone path leading to a door at one end of the terrace. Before she reached it, the door opened. A tall, middle aged woman stood there. She watched silently as Flaky picked her way up the puddled path.

"Mrs. Joy?" Flaky said when she got closer.

The woman's mouth curved slightly. Flaky decided that it was a smile. "I'm Mrs. Joy, Rose Joy."

Flaky recongised her voice from the phone call. "I'm Flaky Quills. You probably guessed that."

Mrs. Joy nodded and stepped aside so Flaky could go into the house.

"This way please," Mrs. Joy said.

Flaky followed the woman down a long dim hallway. They passed several carved wooden doors, and a hall that led to another wing of the house. Flaky had never been in a place this big before.

Stopping at one of the carved doors, Mrs. Joy opened it and led Flaky into a small room, In it were two chairs, a desk, a computer, and several filing cabinets. A small television sat on the desk.

Mrs. Joy moved behind the desk and motioned for Flaky to take one of the chairs. She said, "Do you know Giggles?"

Flaky shook her head.

"Then you must know... she had an accident. She's paralysed."

"Oh. I'm sorry." It sounded pretty lame, but Flaky couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Yes everyone is." Mrs. Joy picked up a pencil and started to fiddle with it. "The doctors think that it's possible for her to recover," she said. "A physical therapist visits her regularly, so do some of her friends." Her mouth twitched in in that almost smile again. Flaky got the feeling that she wasn't crazy about her daughter's friends.

"But she needs more," Mrs. Joy went on. "She's always enjoyed reading, but she can't do it on her own now. The doctor suggested hiring a reader." She looked at Flaky then changed the subject. "Tell me about yourself, Flaky."

"Well, I moved here a few weeks ago," Flaky said. "I'm seventeen. I've been baby sitting at neighbours, but I'd like to earn some more money. Most of the summer jobs are already taken, so when I saw the advert, I called." Listening to herself, Flaky didn't think she sounded very impressive. But the woman didn't want to hear her life story. She just wanted someone who could read.

Mrs. Joy stared out of the window. Following her gaze, Flaky saw the gardener walking alongside the garden. He was younger than he looked from a distance. Maybe her own age. she thought.

As if he knew he was being watched, the guy turned and looked out the window. Flaky wasn't sure, but she thought he smiled.

Looking annoyed, Mrs. Joy got up and pulled a heavy green curtain across the window. Then she sat back down and folded her hands on top of the desk. "Reading to someone isn't as easy as it sounds," she said. "I tried it with Giggles, and even though I tried to keep my voice animated, I'm afraid I failed. And, frankly I don't have the time. Maybe you can do better. Why don't you come and meet her now? Talk to her a little, read a little. If it goes well, then we'll discuss what times would be best for both of you."

A tryout Flaky thought. Why not? The worst that could happen was that she'd put Giggles Joy to sleep. Of course she wouldn't get the job then, but maybe that wouldn't be so bad after all.

This place gave her an uneasy feeling.

Mrs. Joy was already at the door. As Flaky stood up, a man came in. Dressed in a dark business suit, he looked about the same age as Mrs. Joy. he also looked s if he had a lot on his mind.

"Honey, I need..." The man stopped talking when he saw Flaky.

"This is Flaky Quills," his wife said. "She answered the advert in the newspaper.

"Oh? Good." Mr Joy stuck out his hand and Flaky shook it. She thought he'd say something about the job, but instead he turned to his wife. "I need to talk to you as soon as you finish in here" he said. "It's important."

"Of course." Mrs. Joy smiled. This time, Flaky noticed, it looked much more genuine.

"Okay, fine." With another quick glance at Flaky, Mr. Joy left, his footsteps echoing down the polished wood floor of the hallway.

Mrs. Joy looked at her watch. "This way please."

Flaky followed her down the hallway again, towards the back of the house. When they reached the large wooden doors. Mrs. Joy stopped. "I should tell you," she said. "Giggles doesn't speak. The doctors aren't sure of the cause." She opened the door and stood aside for Flaky to go in.

The room was big. And even on a grey day it should have been filled with light. Four windows at the back reached almost from floor to ceiling and looked out on the stone terrace. There were three more tall windows on the far side.

But in spite of the windows, it was dark. Maybe it was the heavy bookcases lining two of the walls. Or the dark wood-and-leather furniture, or the stone cold fireplace.

It should have been a beautiful room, full of warmth. But all Flaky could think was the feeling she'd had when she first saw the house- like she was looking at a prison.

Now, she was looking at the prisoner: a girl her own age, sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of a cold, dark room.