by Jennifer Walsh

Chapter 1

Miss Barker closed the book and looked at her watch. Knights and magicians vanished, and the thunder of hooves faded into the summer afternoon. Tim dragged himself with difficulty back from the enchanted air of Camelot and gazed around at his classmates, sitting cross-legged on the mat.

'Up straight, class.'

The bell hadn't rung yet. She was going to let some of them out early. Ricky and Ben scuffled stealthily over a pencil at the back, and somewhere girls' whispers could be heard. But the smart ones sprang at the teacher's command, hands clasped in front of them, backs stretched out as straight as could be, leaning so far over their heads almost touched the floor behind.

'Right, Kylie. You can get your bag and go.'

Kylie strutted through the room, that smug look on her face that appeared a hundred times a day: when she got all her sums right, when she came top in spelling, when she got sent down to order Miss Barker's lunch.

'Very good, Angela and Susan. Quietly, please.'

They skipped out. It wasn't fair. She always picked the girls. Tim straightened his back still further.

'Well, Tim, this is not like you.' She was smiling in his direction. 'Off you go, then.'

Tim leaped up, tripping over Phillip's feet, and shot out of the room. He grabbed his bag and was off down the stairs. Halfway down he stopped, unzipped the money pocket in his shorts, and peered inside. Yes, it was still there. A whole fifty dollar note. More money than he had ever held in his hand before, even counting the fifty dollars Nana had sent him last birthday. Mum had looked after that for him, and handed it over at the toy-shop when he had bought the Lego space-ship, so it wasn't the same. But this time, even though he couldn't buy a toy with it, the money was entirely his to look after and spend.

At lunchtime he had shown Phillip the money. Mum had said he mustn't take it out, but it was okay to unzip the pocket and let someone else have a peep. Phillip's eyes had nearly popped out of his head.

'Oh, boy,' he said. 'If that was mine…'

Phillip had had his Matchbox book with him, as usual, and they had a great time looking through it and deciding what they could spend fifty dollars on. Tim liked the Superkings, especially the fire-engine, but Phillip had his heart set on a 1906 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

'Those Superkings are just toy cars,' he said, rather scornfully, 'but the Models of Yesteryear are collectors' items.'

Phillip was a great collector. He had shells, and cricket cards, and several books full of stamps at home.

'I'm getting some Spiderman runners with it,' Tim explained. 'On the way home.' All by myself, he thought gleefully.

The rest of the day had dragged on, hot and still, until Miss Barker announced that she would read a story, if the class was prepared to be quiet and listen. She had her good points, Miss Barker.

Tim got to the bottom of the stairs, taking them two at a time. There were a few mothers in the playground, standing in little groups, talking. Tim nearly bumped into Mrs Palmer.

'Out early, Tim? Your Mum's not here yet.'

'She's not coming,' said Tim. 'I'm going home by myself.'

'How's Steffy's chicken-pox?'

'Oh … itchy.'

Kylie was waiting for her mother, and the other girls were playing on the swings, so Tim was the first to leave the playground. The lollipop lady was at the crossing, thank goodness - Mum had said if she wasn't there he was to wait and cross with an adult. The lady held up her sign and he walked across proudly, stopping three cars. Then he turned and set off down the hill, past the first shops.

Normally Tim would have lingered outside the newspaper shop to look at the Matchbox cars, the bookshop to check out the pop-up books, the milk-bar to read the advertisements and see if there were any new competitions involving ice-cream sticks or lolly wrappers. But today he had a purpose, and he headed straight for the shoe shop.

'This is the last straw,' Mum had said that morning when he showed her the hole in the sole of his runner. 'What am I going to do about that?'

'You said I could have Spiderman runners next time,' he reminded her.

'Yes, but I can't take you shopping, can I, with Steffy covered in spots? Where are your sandals?'

'I lost them, remember?'

'Oh, God.'

'They were too small anyway, Mum. Why can't I buy the runners myself? I walk right past the shop.'

'Oh, well … I don't know.'

It took a bit of persuading, but finally she zipped the money into his pocket and, with a million instructions, sent him off to school.

It was a simple task, anyway. Tim knew his size - size three - and anyway, he could always ask to have his foot measured. The Spiderman runners were right there, on display in the middle of the window. They must have sold hundreds of pairs already - nearly everyone in the school had them by now.

Tim stepped into the shop, unzipping his pocket and fingering the crisp fifty-dollar note as he went. The bald man who usually sat drinking coffee at the back of the shop approached him.

'Yes, young man. What can we do for you?'

'A pair of Spiderman runners, please. Size three.'

'Size three, is it? Hmmmm.'

The man started to rummage round among the piles of shoe boxes.

Out came a pair of plain blue denim runners.

'These do you?'

'No. No thank you,' stammered Tim. 'I really want Spiderman ones.'

'Well. I can give you a size five.'

The man found a box with a Spiderman picture on it and produced an enormous shoe. 'May as well try it on, eh?'

'All right.'

Tim picked furiously at the double knot on his old runner. Why did Mum insist on double knots? She usually helped him when they were really tight. At last he got his shoe off and slipped the other one on. His foot swam in it.

'Hmmmm. Bit big,' admitted the man. 'Might grow into it, eh?'

'I don't think so,' said Tim doubtfully.

'Well, then, I can't help you. Sorry.' The man didn't really sound sorry. 'We're getting some more stock in next week. Come back … oh, after Wednesday.'

'All right. Thank you.'

Dismally Tim retied his shoelace, forgetting to pull it tight. He picked up his bag and trudged out of the shop. What now? Another whole week without Spiderman runners stretched out before him - and by then Steffy would be back at school and Mum would be picking them both up in the afternoons as she normally did. She would carry the money, talk to the man, make the decisions. Tim had pictured himself arriving at school in the new runners, telling his friends how he'd gone down the street and bought them. You got stickers with Spiderman runners. He was going to produce them for News and mention, just in passing, how he'd bought the shoes himself. Next Wednesday might as well be next year.

Tim dragged his feet as he walked on. He could feel the footpath through the hole in his right shoe. All these people must have noticed that he was walking home by himself, just like most of the other boys in his class. It wouldn't do to cry, with them all looking at him. He slowed down a bit more to glance in the window of the antique shop - the junk shop, Mum called it. Sometimes they had interesting things - puppets, strange clothes, occasionally some old-fashioned toy cars that he could tell Phillip about.

Funny - he'd never noticed the shop next to the antique shop before. It was very narrow, with a door set back from the street, rather shadowy, and a little window no bigger than you'd see on a house. The odd thing was, it looked like a shoe shop. The lighting was dim, but the window appeared to be full of cardboard shoe-boxes, with a single pair of rather splendid-looking boots on display in the centre; and inside he thought he could make out more shoe-boxes, rows and rows of them.

Tim hovered around the doorway. If it really was a shoe shop he ought to go in and ask. It had a sort of funny, old-fashioned look about it, but you never knew. The ads for Spiderman runners did say 'On Sale Everywhere'. In a way he very much wanted to go into the shop. There was something that seemed to draw him to it, like a little voice whispering in his ear, urging him inside. But at the same time there was something scary about the place, probably just because it was old, and narrow, and dim.