Josh's life is devastated when his father's flown home from Iraq with his face severely burned. The worst thing about it all is that no one yet knows how bad his injuries are. His face - or what's left of it - is hidden under a white burns mask.
And there's no one Josh can turn to with his worries - Mum retreats into her vodka, Gran knits endless awful jumpers, and baby brother Larry (aka 'The Demolition Man') tears, bites and kicks everything in sight.
Even Josh's best friend Sandy's acting strangely, and he can't understand it. Why has she suddenly teamed up with the class bully? And why have the two of them just played the cruellest of tricks on him?
It seems all Josh has got now is his dog Dexter - and the diary his counsellor Carol-Ann's persuaded him to keep. And as he struggles to keep his feelings of fear and rage bottled up, life spirals frighteningly out of control ...
Day 4 – Josh’s diary
My whole body’s aching tonight, and I’m covered in cuts. My eyes just want to shut, but I really need to write this.
I need to write it, to make sense of what happened today. So that tomorrow, when I tell the police, I tell it right.
I’ll start with the nightmare. Because if it hadn’t been for that nightmare, maybe the whole thing wouldn’t have happened.
I’m in school, walking down the dark, endless corridor. Suddenly there’s a flash, and everything’s bright white.
Then Dad, in an electric wheelchair, wheels across the corridor in front of me. He’s not wearing a mask, but I can’t see his face. I try to shout ‘Dad!’ but nothing comes. I run, try to follow him. But he’s gone.
Then Larry appears, wearing a white mask. He’s got something in his hand. A picture of Dad.
‘Don’t!’ I shout, because I know what he’s going to do. But he doesn’t listen.
I watch as he tears the picture into little pieces. They float to the ground like snowflakes. As I go to pick them up, I see them moving together again.
Dad’s face is looking up at me, and all the rips in the paper are red, ugly scars.
Now Larry’s running away, laughing. Hundreds of masks are snowing down on him. The floor’s white with them. He reaches the end of the corridor, throws away his mask, and disappears. His laughter echoes back to me.
Now Dexter’s beside me, wagging his tail and barking. Wanting out. We run together, down the corridor. I hear the masks snapping and crackling beneath our feet. It’s a good sound.
On we run, Dexter and me. Past the office, down the steps, out of the school.
The sky’s black and filled with stars. There’s a full moon. I see Dad’s face in it. I think, ‘Even the man in the moon’s got scars’.
Dexter’s still barking, wanting his ‘walkies’. Suddenly I think of all the good times Dexter and Larry and me had with my dad, before he got blown up.
I wake. Anger’s blinding me.
I was so angry when I woke up, I wanted to smash something. I picked up my pillow, banged it down on my bed, over and over. As I did, I imagined that pillow was Tiffany and Sandy.
How dare they give me such a bad nightmare? How dare they?
Wildly, I looked round my room. Searching for something to break, to rip, to destroy.
I remember thinking, ‘This is what Larry must feel like, when the anger gets too much for him.’
I pulled out my old toy box, found a couple of plastic models, snapped off their heads.
It only made the anger worse. I looked in the box again, saw the old Hallowe’en mask, pulled it out.
I’ve had that mask for years. It’s one of those rubbery ones, and it’s pretty hideous. It’s got sea-blue skin, bloodshot eyes, and fangs like the bloodstained horns of a bull.
And the hair’s red and yellow, like flames swirling in a bonfire.
I stared and stared into the eyes of the mask. And the more I stared into those fiery eyes, the angrier I felt. As though the mask was sending its anger out, to join my own.
Those eyes had such power! I honestly felt as if they could burn two holes right through my flesh and bones.
‘It’s what fire would look like, if it was a face,’ I thought. ‘It’s a Fire Mask.’
I put the Fire Mask on, and looked in the mirror. And that was when the brilliant idea came.
The brilliant idea that nearly killed Sandy ...
I got dressed. I put on my black top with the red skulls. I knew it would look good with the Fire Mask.
I went downstairs. When Mum saw my top, she didn’t say anything. She just banged my cereal bowl down in front of me.
I ate my breakfast. I left for school. The Fire Mask smouldered in my jeans pocket.