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It's our final Friday appointment with Rick, James, Anna, Amy and all.
This story was originally written in 1998, and this 2017 version is vastly different to that. Suffice to say, this is a long one - dare I say "feature length"? In OvationPro it runs to 43 pages of A4. So it's easily twice the length of any of the other stories.
With that in mind, we'll get straight to it, shall we? Here's the playlist, then the story.
8 - Denouement
|Denouement by Richard Murray
First version : Richard Murray, 1998.
This version: Richard Murray, 2017.
© Copyright 2017 Richard Murray.
With thanks to Richard Goodwin for encouragement in the early drafts. Not that this version resembles those...
Richard Murray is asserting his right to be identified as the author of this story.
This story is not to be republished anywhere else in any form (electronic, paper, or otherwise) without the prior permission of the author.
It was the second half of summer term. All things considered the weather was pretty good. It cleared up midMarch to give near constant sunshine. Like the summers you remember from your childhood, different from the summers you experience as an adult - which are mostly grey with a few blistering hot days.
Whichever way you looked at it, today was a good day. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze rippled the trees and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Not even the high-up wispy stuff.
That was just as well for today was the school fête. An interesting occasion... where the pupils make little stalls, the prefects try to get laid (normally - all two of the prefects at the moment are girls that aren’t even pupils here), the villagers turn out to moan about us dropping litter, the headmaster proudly shows off a demonstration minibus that we are supposedly raising money for and the parents believe all this crap and spend well despite the fact that we will never ever have a minibus with self-opening doors...or an engine that starts every time it is asked to.
Usually by the end of the day, about a quarter of the money raised will have gone into our pockets, a quarter will go into school funds to help pay for the constant stream of pointless administration and a quarter will be donated to the local church. The final quarter? Your guess is as good as mine.
The fête had been running for three hours and we were all starting to get a little hot and bothered. Still, it was an excuse to drop the Saturday morning lessons, so it wasn’t all bad. James had a three-camera setup to single-handedly record a play being put on by the first formers. The play was excruciatingly lame, but the kids decided to revel in it and certainly brought the story to life; even if it was somewhat different than they had rehearsed. Sarah, their drama tutor, hid her face in shame when an unscripted stabbing covered half the stage with ketchup. The parents loved it though. Their special child was up there performing, and their special child could do no wrong - the driving force behind parenthood and rather a good thing else they might have realised how different the play was to what had been intended, not to mention the complete lack of logic of a bunch of white British schoolboys shouting about Blood and Crips as the tenuous “explanation” for the bloodshed and the pile (and I mean pile) of bodies lying on the ground doing a pitifully poor job of acting dead. I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising, really, given the Poll Tax riots that happened at the end of March, followed by the long running riot at that prison, and some others. Things seemed to be getting nastier in the world. I found it amusing that fourth place in the charts was Adamski’s “Killer”, while fifth place was Elton John’s “Sacrifice”. Hmm... It Must Have Been Love ... The Only One I Know ... Hold On ... Dirty Cash ... Better The Devil You Know ... It’s My Life ... I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For ... Can We Be Lovers ... Girl To Girl ... Won’t Talk About It ... Close To You ... The Masterplan ... U Can’t Touch This ... Time After Time ... The Power ... Cuts Both Ways ... Policy Of Truth ... Message In The Box ... And That’s Before Me Tea. One could almost make up an entire story just reading the song titles of the top forty (and, of course, missing most of the titles with “love” in them). As if the violence wasn’t enough, it was now getting to be common knowledge that our food was slowly making us crazy. Mad cows, in point of fact, leading to mad humans. In order to quell reports of the killer beef, the government agriculture bloke fed a hamburger to his young daughter. It wasn’t missed on people that he appeared to eat none of it himself.
One group who did notice the production values were the villagers. They said the play was “in bad taste”, “shocking”, “dreadfully inappropriate” and more. But nobody paid any attention to them. They said exactly the same thing all those years ago when Abigail started teaching - at that time the first female teacher to join an all boy’s school. She, a teacher who insisted on being called “Mz”, and got angry if you called her “Miss” or “Mrs”. Abigail certainly gave them a lot to chew over. A woman teaching. A parent with a young daughter. No husband in sight. A single parent? An American? “Shocking! Shouldn’t be allowed!”, and so on until a kid threw their empty Poppets box into some old fart’s garden. Then that “simple act of wanton destruction” was debated endlessly at town council and rotary meetings and Abigail was left in peace.
I gave my stall over to a second former I was friends with. It was a simple and lame game where you have to get a wire loop around a coathanger without touching it. One buzz and you’re out. Like I said, it was lame but something of a tradition to me, having been my ‘stall’ for the previous four years. Only this year I hid a tiny reed switch in the connection to the loop of wire. Why? Because tucked into my sleeve was a magnet. So when people challenged me to do it, which they usually did after failing three or four times, I could raise one hand in the air (look, no cheating!), then guide the loop around the twisted coathanger making the same sort of over-the-top expressions as a rock guitarist trying to find the perfect power chords. Then, big climatic finish, and done. Not a single buzz. Because I’m just made of awesome. Or maybe just a dose of applied magnetism. My friend didn’t know about the reed switch. Nobody did. So if people challenged him and he was dumb enough to accept, he’d probably end up losing me money. Oh, what did I care? I’d already pocketed fifteen quid. That’ll do me in Wispas and Walnut Whips for a while.
I joined up with Amy and we ambled down to the animal area. Nobody was down here so we wandered around a little to see what was going on. Tunney’s rabbits were at it again, having popped out a load of babies just last week. We walked around the bottom by the end of the playing fields. There’s a lake here. Actually, it is about a quarter of the size of the pond and built out of concrete, for the ducks, but for some reason it is called “the lake”.
Abigail was standing in it, muttering to herself and throwing things into the water. She stepped out of the pond-lake and slipped her shoes back on. Then she walked away, right past us. She did not seem to notice us standing there.
“What the heck?”, Amy muttered.
“She’s been at it too long. Locked up all day in the chemistry lab. That funny smelling crap is starting to mess with her mind.”, I replied.
“Hehe, bromine on the brain huh?”
“Lithium on the liver?”
“Nitrogen makes her go again?”, Amy offered.
“Oh, that was way lame! Phosphorus on the... uh... oh, forget it...”
I looked around. In the lake where Abigail would have been standing was a gold coloured round object.
“What’s that?”, Amy asked.
I shrugged. “Hey, help me find a stick or something to... uh, okay, do it that way...”
Amy had simply walked into the not-lake, picked up the gold thing and walked back to the edge. She sat down on the concrete side, legs in the water.
“It is so hot today. I feel I could dive into this and swim around.”
“You can’t dive in, it’s maybe up to your knees in the centre”, I replied, “and the water is green and icky, the less of that on you the better.”
I sat down beside her. “So, what is it?”, I asked.
Amy turned it over and over. “Looks a little like a tuppence, only gold and about four times as large.”
“Sure it is gold?”, I asked.
“Yeah. Bronze and silver are quite shiny. This thing is duller.”
“It looks too white to be gold.”
“That’s the thing you see”, Amy explained, “Proper gold is quite white, it isn’t that colour that everybody thinks is gold.”
Amy passed it over to me. It was heavy. “Think she dropped it?”, I asked.
“Wrap it in bog roll, pop it in your video spares box and see if anybody starts asking questions”, Amy said.
“It’d be a shame if she did want it back, it’s kind of interesting, look at the design”.
Amy took it and looked more closely. “Some extremely rubbed off writing, and what might be a child’s attempt at drawing a triangle. Only a few more sides. Four, or five... uh, maybe even six sides.”
She traced the design with her finger but it was indistinct. She put it into her pocket.
It was dinner time on Sunday. I still hadn’t told Anna what her mother had been up to. Something inside me said it was probably best to let this slide.
A kid had disappeared. Probably a runaway depressed over something or other. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much everything. The life of the average teenager can be hell. Being in a boarding school with little place for privacy can flip some of the more sensitive types right over the edge.
After dinner the staff roped all of us into mounting a search for him. Everybody was annoyed. There was a good film on TV. I set up the video recorder so SIBA could rebroadcast it later. Then I joined the search.
“Jason! Daniel! Whatever the hell your name is!”, somebody shouted.
“I think it is Damien”, another called back.
“Who the hell is called Damien these days? Yo Damien! Your parents never watched The Omen?”
“No, sorry, it’s Peter.”, the second voice called back.
“Right, Peter, get you ass out here!”, the first shouted, “Come out now or I swear to god I’m gonna kick the crap out of you. You think I don’t have better things to do, you loser?”
“Smythe! Detention!”, the headmaster shouted.
“Tosser”, the first voice, Jonathan Smythe, muttered.
“I HEARD THAT”
By the time I got back to my study, us having failed to find the kid and work out what his name was, there were three staff members and two uniformed officers sitting there waiting. The first officer was female and attractive, but not the nice WPC Lucy that we met before. The second officer was male. Unremarkable except that he never said a word. Maybe the female officer forgot to plug him in? I sat on the edge of my bed, and the two rozzers stopped looking at the random hazarai on the fitted desk.
The news was that Colin Roth, our old enemy, had managed to wangle his way out of prison by faking a severe beating. The wardens fell for it, three of them paid with their lives. The police considered that there was a possibility that Mr. Roth may decide to make an appearance here.
I don’t have any fancy qualifications to my name, but I could have told them the exact same thing. The man holds a grudge.
I should keep my eyes open for the unusual (in this place? the usual is more worthy of notice). They cannot provide us any protection based upon a hunch. But if anything should go down, they’ll be right over. In other words, somebody screwed up and the system is designed to ensure that the screw-up just keeps getting more impressive.
I said goodbye politely and showed them out the door. Then I noticed that there were self-rolled cigarettes inside my floppy box. Well done of the rozzers to pretend not to notice that, but I’m going to kill James later because I’d bet a pound to a penny that they were joints. Bastard, hiding that in my study. Wasn’t last term enough, when he got half the school wasted and sent us both to hospital?
That evening the student server sort of died. An aging Econet box, two floppy discs and a 20 megabyte harddisc. It was the latter that vanished from the server list. It was the latter that was holding most of the fifth former’s coursework, plus a lot of SIBA’s stuff. And we all know that backups are an unknown concept. I’d maintain my own backups, but I didn’t have a grand to blow on a harddisc, so some stuff was on assorted floppy discs, most of which were unlabelled or had labels that bore no similarity to the contents.
It was possible that the machine was just maxed out or something. Teachers often ended their session by simply switching their computer off instead of logging out first, and no number of double-underlined memos were going to change that. I doubted that they’d even bother to pay attention to a three line whip.
James and I broke into the computer room with a knife and a paperclip and we examined the machine by torchlight. Nothing smoking. Nothing seemed odd. We switched the FileStore server off and back on again. It did its lengthy start up, scanned one floppy drive then the other. Still no harddisc. We switched the harddisc unit off and back on. Nothing. Normally there is a faint fweee sound as the disc spins up, followed by some chk-chk noises as it performs a self-test and some other diagnostic stuff, then it’s ready. Now? Silence.
We went past the maths room and knocked on the door of the chemistry lab cloakroom. Abigail, the teacher on duty tonight, answered. We explained what had happened and gave her a welcome distraction from marking papers. We weren’t worried about Abigail thinking we’d broken it or anything, she knew we made a lot of use of the server both as students and for SIBA. James and I had rewritten and improved the electronic mail system how many times now? I think we’d lost count. At one point it was like “oh, it’s a rainy weekend, let’s rewrite the mail software”. James knew 6502 assembler from his days hacking extra lives into Repton, and I knew ARM assembler from my adventures hanging on the Econet wire scanning for login packets to extract the user names and passwords. So what started out as a hacked-together BASIC programme was now a comprehensive suite of tools.
Abigail followed us to the computer room. The forlorn beige box was on its own table in the corner of the room, the reliable green indicator belying the server’s true state.
“The harddisc is not spinning up. It’s just dead”, James said.
“This is purely my opinion, but I think the motor has packed up, or the motor controller”, James continued.
Abigail nodded again, looking somewhat blank.
“Disc hardware is pretty reliable, it spins up and just keeps on going”, James said. He looked at me “Any ideas?”
“Just one”, I replied, “Everybody loathed this file server because it is old and slow and clunky. Nobody liked it. The poor thing tried it’s very best to be a friend, despite its extremely basic operating system and being crippled with such a tiny amount of memory, but still nobody liked it. It died of a broken heart. A miserable, cold and lonely rejection.”
Suddenly I imagined the FileStore sitting on a deck chair on a beach in Hawaii, with The Eurythmics singing “Sweet Dreams” somewhere in the background. A big monitor was displaying a raytraced sun-tanned face with a massive grin...despite the FileStore having absolutely no video capabilities whatsoever.
Snap back to reality after that peculiar interruption. James and Abigail both were staring at me.
“Jesus, not a dry eye in the house”, James muttered, “but dead is dead and this thing is dead.”
“Don’t worry boys, it’ll be okay”, Abigail said, waving her hand towards the beige box, “Now, if you’d like to go now I have a whole lot of marking and assessing to do.”
“Assessing?”, I asked
She didn’t answer, just went back to the chemistry lab.
James wandered off to get some of the vile tea-coloured liquid from the urn by the dining room because he was too lazy to go make his own. Anna had found me, so I sat down by the wheelie bins behind the kitchen talking about random things.
Anna had come to realise that our final GCSEs are not very far in the future. When they are done, I have the option to stay until the end of term, or I can leave early.
“You do realise that you won’t be able to see me every day like you do now.”
I watched as Abigail slipped out of the chemistry room and into the computer room.
“What will you do? Will you miss me? Will you miss us? Will you miss here?”
Abigail put on something that looked like a black lace edged lab coat. It had a cool gothic vide, she ought to wear that for a lesson. She became a little smaller, so I guess she had taken her shoes off. Then she let her hair down.
“Why can’t our last days be happy and sunny? You know I’ve been invited to join the undergraduate programme at Princeton? I am seriously thinking of going. They do some great science courses there. As if this isn’t enough to be worrying about... Hey? Hey! Are you paying any attention to me?”
Anna followed my gaze and saw her mother concentrating over the computer, looking like she was blessing it or something. Her mouth was moving, she was saying something. It looked like she was caressing the server.
“Mom? The guys said that it won’t work”
Abigail spun around and gasped, not expecting us to have been there.
“The light is on honey, that’s a good sign”, she said.
“The light comes on mom, it’s the harddisc that...doesn’t...”
Anna never finished her sentence. We could both hear it. The harddisc was noisier in real life than in our memories.
“You see Anna, it needs that female touch.”
“No mom. The harddisc was dead. You can’t just be nice to it!”
“Well, I guess he was wrong honey, but he’s a man, it happens, frequently, you’ll get used to it”
Anna was confused. James and I were pretty certain this harddisc was dodo.
I was looking at Abigail as if she was naked, yet still hiding something. Wonder mixed with distrust. It was starting to come together.
“You remember a certain candle? In a pot, with earth around it? Left in the dormitory after David...you know... became the last swinger in town”, I asked.
Abigail nodded, almost imperceptibly. Anna missed this, as she was looking to me, her eyes questioning.
“How about yesterday? In the so-called lake? Most people don’t wade with their clothes on.”, I said.
“I wasn’t that much in”, Abigail replied, laughing.
“You were in it enough.”
“Mom, what’s going on?”, Anna asked.
“You always did seem a little unusual. Apart from your random rants on feminine issues, we’re way too happy for somebody that thinks they’ve gotta work in this place for the rest of their lives”, I said. A little harsh, but it was true. The only time I ever saw Abigail lose her general sense of contentment was when she watched part of the video of what had been going down in the headmaster’s bedroom.
“Mom!”, Anna shouted, her voice wavering.
“Oh, come now. There is nothing to get so worried about.” Abigail replied, “Anna, honey, I guess it is time you learned to fulfil your full potential”
“I am mom, I’ve read several new books by Carl Sagan and...”
“That’s not quite what I meant. You see, there is a kind of tradition in our family, in the female lineage, and, well...”
“I think they usually call it witchcraft”, I mutter.
Both looked at me, “Uh, I’ll shut up now.”
I also had a vague recollection of Abigail making some sort of ritual incantation that time James decided to torch a pile of weed, but I didn’t mention anything about this as that whole episode seemed to be a really weird hallucination. I think James killed me. I think I killed him. But we’re both here so clearly my mind was way far gone. That said, Abigail being some sort of witch didn’t surprise me.
“What’s he going on about? Mom?”
“Well, um, yes. They do call it witchcraft, as a matter of fact.”
“MOM! Why are you messing around with this occult nonsense. You should know better!”
“Honey, it isn’t nonsense.” Abigail looked at the computer pointedly long enough for Anna to follow her gaze, but Anna didn’t. She knew what her mother was referencing. “And it isn’t really the occult either. That usually means demons and hobgoblins and Ouija boards. Besides, I don’t really look good in black.”
“I beg to differ”, I muttered, “Anna looks lovely in something black and sorta see-through. I bet you would...” Anna glared at me. Abigail smiled. “Oh my God, I just said that out loud didn’t I? Okay, I’ll shut up now. Swear to god, I mean it...”
“It’s difficult to explain. It is about energy and manipulating... no, utilising that energy.”, Abigail said.
Anna turned around and stormed out of the room. I hesitated, then followed when Abigail get me a push. I should point out that she definitely gave me a push. Firm, but soft. Yet, she was standing on the other side of the desk. I respectfully nodded, then fled. Not sure if I was following Anna or just getting the hell out of weird.
SIBA was being handed over to some third formers. Because it was mid June and I’d be adios for good in a month. Time to let go and train up some protégées. I popped into the studio and asked them to find and play Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” by special request since I remembered Amy humming that to herself the other day. And Belinda Carlisle’s “Leave A Light On” because I liked it.
I found Anna lying on the bed in study 12. We had moved the transmitter into the studio study ages ago, but all this time later nobody wanted to go into David’s study. It was even called that, as if it was waiting for him to return.
I stood by the door. I’d made peace with David’s death, it’s kind of hard not to when his ghost was messing with you. But even so I avoided coming in here as much as I could. I’ll never know what was going on in David’s final days, but this wasn’t a happy place for him. I choked back a tear because I still felt that I could have done something if I’d been more observant. Noticed. Something. Anything.
“As a scientist I cannot accept such things”, Anna said to me.
“I was hoping I had raised you better than that”
I turned around. Abigail was standing outside the door. She let herself in and I quietly moved just outside the door, like castling in a game of chess.
“I tried to raise you to see the world with better eyes. Science is not about making the world fit into your preconceived notions. You are supposed to examine what you experience and make theories based upon those experiences, not the other way around.”
What followed was a garbled monologue from Anna, something to do with aliens and witches and stupid people with nothing better to do and a predilection for pointy hats. She ended the rant by instructing her mother on where she could insert her magic wand, in the bluntest terms possible. She then got up, pushed her mother out of the room, then slammed the door so hard the plaster cracked.
“Well, that went well”, Abigail said, smiling at me, “Don’t worry, she’ll come around.”
The door flew open and... well, when Anna is upset she tends to deliver her speech at great speed, with an accent much stronger than normal, and using a lot of slang terms I’d never heard before, none of which sounded complimentary. She ended up practically screaming that she’d buy the farm before she ever engaged in such hocus pocus, how things like that were for the birds. At least, that’s what I think she said. Those few parts where I could recognise the words, if not understand the meaning.
An hour or so later I was sitting on my bed with Anna lying across my lap. Amy and I were absentmindedly playing with Anna’s hair. The sedative that Matron had given her seemed to be doing its thing.
The next morning I felt like crap, and not just because it was a Monday. Anna more or less passed out on my bed. Amy had wanted to stay so she took the upper bunk and tied herself to the bunk with two dressing gown belts, not that she can have slept much, she leaned over the side to check on Anna about every ten minutes. Me? I had a choice, sleep in David’s study or on the floor. I took the floor. Amy was already up. Anna was still dead to the world on my bed. Whatever Matron gave her certainly knocked her for six.
I changed into uniform and headed to breakfast. Amy was marshalling everybody through the dining room. I noticed it was second sitting and some of the slower first formers were still there. That’s got to be a better approach than yanking away the meal trays.
Outside the weather was bleak and overcast. Just perfect for a day that begins with double English followed by Maths. I would need to knock back a few teas to get my brain in gear for dealing with that trauma.
The post distribution was during the eleven o’clock morning break as usual. A package for me. James grabbed my package from the bursar and brought it up to my study. I was checking on Anna, still out of it, and making myself some real tea.
“You got something”, James called out, tossing the package from hand to hand.
“Hey careful with that!”, I called back at him, “You don’t want to set Colin’s bomb off do you?”
James froze, and completely missed the catch. Picking the package from the floor, he said “No way mate, you got me there but I don’t trust that Roth dude to make a bomb capable of withstanding the British postal service.”
He offered it to me. I wasn’t expecting anything so I declined.
“Nah, you seem to enjoy playing with it, you can open it”, I said.
“Wicked! You expecting anything?”, he asked.
“Nope. Maybe it’s some new gadget for SIBA?”
I then added, “Oh, and James, if you’ve ordered an inflatable sheep under my name - I swear to god I’m gonna... uh, do something nasty to you.”
“Inflatable sheep? Hah, that’d be too normal for this place.”
James took the package and opened it very carefully, after listening for three minutes convinced it was ticking, until I told him to take off his wristwatch and try again.
“Oh... my... god!”, James said.
“What is it?”, I asked, “A years back issues of Penthouse?”
“Uh, not exactly”, he replied, “A Barbie doll and the, the other one.”
“Isn’t it called Sindy or something?”, I offered.
“No, the guy.”
“Uh... Ken?” For God’s sake James, if you want to know about doll names, go ask Amy or some other double-X carrier.
“Yeah, a Barbie and a Ken. Both headless. Covered in some red gunge. There is a note. It says ‘Soon’, signed Colin.”, James said.
“Jeez, gimme a break will you? That crap ain’t funny”, I replied, reaching for the package. Inside were two dolls wearing bridal outfits. Heads missing. About half a bottle of ketchup over them and a note from Colin that said ‘Soon’.
“Bugger”, was about all I could manage.
It was sitting open on the fitted desk. James and I were sitting on the edge of my bunk staring at it.
“Looks like the postmark said SW something. Is that Swindon or London?”, I asked.
“London, South West”, James said, “Swindon is SD or SN, something like that.”
“We’d better hide this.”, I suggested
“From?”, James asked.
“Living dead girl behind us. She doesn’t need this kind of crap right now. The police will ask a lot of questions and do roughly nothing. And the staff, we don’t need the head bitching at us about personal safety.”
“Works in theory”, James said, “But Anna is just behind us.”
We both looked back. She was still out of it, and didn’t look like she was having happy dreams.
Anna slept right through the day, and the next. Amy stayed with Anna for much of the time, stroking her head and trying to keep a happy face on. I avoided James as I was worried about Anna too and didn’t want to deal with James saying something stupid. Come nightfall I sorted out a space on the floor when Amy threw the duvet at me, then lay down beside me and pulled the duvet over us both.
“What did mummy give her? Has she woken up at all?”, Amy asked.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
The next morning Amy shook Anna hard. Anna sort of got up and then collapsed again. “Come on, get up already, you’ve slept for days!”, Amy said, trying very hard to be perky. She took hold of Anna’s duvet and whipped it off. We both saw that Anna was soaked.
Anna started to cry.
“This is a girl moment, right?”, I said, hurriedly excusing myself.
“I’ll get mummy to sort out a new mattress”, Amy said.
“So not your current priority”, I replied, then slammed the door and skipped down the stairs before she could say anything else. I wasn’t actually that upset about it, Anna had been asleep there for... what was it, two and a bit days now? Sedated on Sunday, finally woke up on Wednesday. Both mothers had been playing it cool but I suspect if it went on much longer Anna would have been taken to hospital, and a lot of awkward questions would arise.
I avoided my study during the day. Amy was with Anna. That’s another day they both missed from their own school. I went up after dinner time, put the kettle on, and sat at my computer like nothing was wrong.
“You know, we’ve pretty much handed SIBA over to those third formers yet people are still sending requests to my private mail. What’s with that?”, I said.
I turned. Both girls were staring at me.
“What?”, I said.
“I’m sorry”, Anna said quietly.
“It’s okay”, I replied.
“No, I mean, really, I...”
“Amy, is the bed changed?”
“Yes”, Amy replied, “Mattress, duvet, covers, pillow, everything. Some of your clothes in the drawer below were wet. Mummy is washing them right now.”
“There you go Anna, it’s all being fixed. It’s cool”, I said.
“I...”, Anna gasped.
“It’s cool, really. You go from happiness in algorithms and complicated maths stuff to arguing about whether or not aliens are going to bring the Virgin Mary to dealing with a witch that you happen to be related to. It’s been a crappy few months”, I said.
“Sure has. But. But. How. Um. How...?”
“How can you reconcile?”, I offer.
“Yes. That’s the word. I mean, I loved Mom so much.”
Amy’s eyes opened wide.
“You still do”, I said.
I left that hanging in the air for a few moments before continuing. “Here’s what you do. You dive headfirst into this witch stuff.”
“I...do?”, Anna gasped.
“You’re science girl, right?”
Anna was completely motionless. It was Amy that nodded in her stead.
“Well, here you go. One of two things will happen. Either you will experience the effects of whatever witchcraft actually is, or you won’t.”
Anna tilted her head.
“If you don’t, no big. Your mother is a bit crazy and you’ll have to think about how to deal with that. But if you do experience something, imagine...”
“I’d pee like her”, Anna said, pointing at Amy.
Not quite the response I expected. So I ignored it and carried on, “Experience it a few times, then you can start seeing if you can devise theories to fit those experiences into the world.”
“Look around. Your mother drove us to a river where you two crazy girls played in the middle of winter. We can fly to Italy for a holiday in a giant metal bird thing. A human from this planet has walked on the surface of that lump of rock that we see in the sky most nights that aren’t cloudy. I used to sit in the room next door and speak, and people in other rooms could see me inside a little glowing box. If you had enough 50p coins you can speak to somebody in Australia for, like, a whole twenty seconds. All these things were once impossible, then magical, then ordinary. Look up. See that light bulb? Way far away a nuclear reaction, literally smashing atoms apart, is acting like a giant kettle, heating water to make steam to spin a big generator which creates electricity by jiggling electrons. These electrons make other electrons jiggle, all the way down lengths of wire. Some spooky weirdness happens inside transformers where the electrons jiggle through magnetic fields that we don’t know what they are but we know how they work. Lots more wire and the end result is the light in this room is glowing. It’s a pile of electric theory that would fill several books and might as well be a dose of applied magic.”
“See what I’m getting at?”, I asked.
Eventually she gave a big smile. “So I just treat it like a big experiment?”
So Wednesday night wasn’t so bad after all. That was how I felt right up until I learned that the missing kid... Daniel, Jason, Peter, whatever his name was turned up in the swimming pool. Face down. Bloated.
I passed the scene trying to make myself invisible. The police had taped the scene off and were engaged in an argument with the third formers running SIBA who had turned up with all the camera gear. I was so used to (previously) running SIBA that I didn’t realise I could have just turned the TV on. I opened the wooden access gate to the shack that houses the pool’s filtration system and peered through a gap in the slats. If the new SIBA guys were any good, they’d already be here. I let it slide. It’s soon not going to be my call, let them learn their own tricks. As a first former, I used to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night on quiet weekends and explore the building. I knew inside the attic, the upper attic and roof space, the roof itself, the haunted hallway, the cellars... there were few places I hadn’t explored and committed to memory. I cast my view side to side and realised I was in the wrong place. I crept over to another gap and looked out. The body was well dead. Somebody was examining the body, the photographs having been taken and the photographer taking various shots of the area. The examiner was talking to somebody close to me, so I could hear what was being said. The preliminary findings were that he was killed away from the pool. When you drown, your body does not have time to respond to the lack of oxygen so you stay relatively pink. When you are asphyxiated, to turn bluer due to lack of oxygen in your blood. This body was sufficiently blue to make the examiner suspect foul play. Apart from two round marks on the neck - needle injection areas - this body looked untouched, though there was less blood than he’d have expected, and the body was quite badly bloated and starting to decompose. Therefore at a rough guess the kid was killed about a week ago and dumped in the pool. After learning that, I quietly backed away and made it back to my study.
“A week ago?”, James asked.
“Yeah. How long has he been missing, like three days?”, I replied. I counted on my fingers. Sunday to Monday, to Tuesday, to Wednesday. Yeah, this would be the third day since he disappeared.
“Sure wasn’t in the pool yesterday”, James observed.
“What’s with the needle wounds on the neck?”, Anna asked.
“Rozzer asked the same thing. Some new trend. You jab yourself in the neck and get those lovely heroin juices into your brain even sooner. Some losers have tried jabbing themselves in the spinal column. You can guess the rest”, I explained.
“Isn’t heroin the one you sniff?”, James asked.
“What do I know? The closest I ever got to drug abuse is watching movies.”
“Wait, that’s right, they line it up on mirrors with razor blades and sniff it.”
We managed to break the news gently to Amy. She burst into tears and cried for ages. That was a good reaction, by Amy’s standards. I guess it is just as well she hadn’t yet heard that Colin is out and possibly incoming.
A late roll-call showed another kid missing. The general opinion was that the second kid, Duncan, was a copycat. I wonder how much Duncan wanted to copy? Running away for attention seeking, or does he want to go the whole distance and end up face down in the pool, having been killed before he left?
Thursday morning, I received an urgent email from the headmaster telling us to broadcast that there will be no morning assembly and anybody found in the vicinity of the main hall would be expelled without prejudice. I crawled out of bed, shaking my head. This was too weird. I went down to the dormitory the third formers are using as their main studio to pass on the message. Really, people, it’s their game now. Stop putting this crap in my mailbox.
I didn’t need to say much. They just pointed to the window.
The oval was covered with cars. Police cars. Black expensive looking cars. Two ambulances. An army LandRover and the obligatory media turnout held off down the bottom.
“What the hell is going on?”, James asked me as he entered the dormitory, “The entries into the hall are guarded by cops who are being guarded by more cops, and the curtains are drawn.”
“Dunno”, I said, watching several policeman assisting a guy wearing jeans carry metal poles into the hall.
“Come on, let’s go put the kettle on”, I said.
“Dude, seriously? Now?”, James replied.
I winked and said, “Of course. You know me. Can’t think clearly without Tetley percolating into my bloodstream.”
We left the dormitory but instead of turning left towards the study block I turned right, then grabbed James. We walked around the one of the fourth form dormitories, then crept into the small toilet under the stairs up to the attic. I pulled James in, then closed the door.
“If you confess I’m punching you out”, James said.
I smiled. “No, just want to give you the head’s up - we will sneak down the back stairs here, then across the blue corridor and then into the records room. It’s like a gallery over the side of the hall so we ought to see what’s going on from there.”
“And you aren’t including your old TV cameras?”, James asked.
“If they were us, they’d already be there.”
“Damn straight. Hey, we have a ready made excuse.”
I watched as James unfolded a printout of the headmaster’s email. “We’re copying this so we can pin it up around the place.”
“Great idea but... why did you print it?”
“To tell the silly fool to send messages to the user called SIBA, not directly to us. You’re graduating soon and I’m taking more of a back seat because my results are, well, a bit bloody awful.”
“Wait, he sent you a copy as well?”, I asked.
I unlocked the door, looked out, and then slunk down the narrow stairwell to the floor below, then we passed on to the forbidden blue corridor, so named because some bright spark had the idea of laying a rather lurid blue carpet. This area was off-limits to us so we crept along pressing ourselves into the wall. If I had any musical talent, I might have hummed the Mission Impossible theme. To our left was the main wooden stairway, and just ahead to the right was a gallery overlooking the main hall. This was where the paper copies of the student records were kept. It was also where the photocopier was located. If James wanted to make copies, we’d logically use the photocopier. Well, just so long as nobody asks why we didn’t just print it multiple times.
“Jesus!”, I spluttered.
James put his hand over my mouth and began to pull me back. When he saw what I saw, his arm went limp.
Duncan was hanging from the chandelier. It was tipped at a crazy angle, with one of the light poles rammed through his spine and up to his neck, as if the chandelier was a gigantic fishing hook. Duncan looked like a rather pathetic scarecrow.
“Get down fools”, a voice whispered loudly.
We both hit the ground hard then looked over and saw a terrified looking Matron being consoled by Abigail.
“Is she okay?”, I asked.
“Guess who found him this morning”, Abigail whispered.
“You say a word to Amy, I’ll kill you”, Matron hissed.
“She’ll find out, best we tell her gently so it doesn’t come as a shock later”, I said.
“She’ll scream the bloody place down”, Matron said, adding, “I did.”
We both crept closer to the bannister and peered through the thin material.
On the floor below, a detective inspector or some other police guy with rank, scratched his head and glanced from his men assembling a scaffold tower to the boy handing from the chandelier, “If this guy is working for an insanity plea, he gets my vote.”
“How the hell did he get up there?”, I asked.
I looked around. Abigail was glaring at me.
“Okay, we’ve seen more than enough”, I said.
“Oh, I could watch this a bit longer”, James replied.
I slapped his head.
As we were leaving, James stopped and said to Abigail, “I’ve seen enough banned horror flicks to know that taking him off the chandelier will traumatise most of the guys down there. You do not want to be around to see or hear that.”
Matron started sobbing.
“Thanks a bunch”, Abigail said.
“What he’s trying to say is that now would be a good time for you to leave as well”, I explained.
Anna picked up Amy and carried into the shower and sat her in the corner cuddling a pillow. She closed the door and a few moments later we heard muffled screams. Then more muffled screams. I suspected Anna lost it along with Amy. Can’t say I blamed them.
I put the kettle on, made tea, then sat holding my mug until it went lukewarm. The girls returned, this time with swollen red eyes.
“Exactly how the hell did he get up there? And why?”, Anna asked before she’d even closed the door.
“Maybe to show off his work? You can’t easily hide a kid swinging from the rafters.”, James said.
“But how did he get up there?”, I asked, “I mean, the cops are using scaffold.”
“Nobody has any idea”, James replied.
“Why don’t they look for the blood trail?”, Amy asked.
“Actually, there is no blood. At all.”, James said.
“Whuh?”, Anna muttered, “No blood? No known way how he got up there?”
After a long pause, Anna asked me, “Is my Mom involved?”
“You mean is this a witchcraft thing?”, I confirmed.
“No. We saw her cuddling Matron”, I said.
“Mummy?!”, Amy exclaimed.
“Yeah, guess who had the horrible luck to be the one to find him”, James said.
“At any rate, they appear to have taken it about as well as you two just did”, I said, “so no, I don’t think this is something your mother is involved with.”
Amy made fresh tea and we drunk it before heading to the SIBA dormitory to see what they were up to. Once again we forgot we could simply switch the TV on.
A camera was propped on a tripod tipped to look down from the window. I glanced to the monitor and saw this was being broadcast. An argument between the headmaster and that has-rank policeman, just outside the main door to the building.
“You should pack this place up and send the kids home”, the policeman ranted.
“Absolutely no chance. Exams are just around the corner. My pupils don’t need this kind of distraction.”
“Distraction? For christ’s sake man, we are talking about lives here.”
“So am I. One bad exam can mess up a person’s life.”
“Why are you so narrow minded? Can’t you understand that two of your boys, supposedly under your care, have turned up dead?”
“I am not as narrow minded as the government. Those exams will take place on the allotted day, and that is that. I have to ensure my pupils are ready. If, however, you had been doing your jobs properly then we could have halved the death rate.”
“I’m going to get a court order.”
“Be my guest... A...former...pupil is swinging from the chandelier and you say you can’t do much without following the proper channels, you stupid cretinous pen-pusher.”
That was the last thing the headmaster said before three other policemen had to forcibly separate the two men. I was stuck on who to support in this matter. Both had valid points, but why not place a policeman or two to beat the bounds and generally make sure nobody else turns up dead. How will the killer top the last display?
The girls and I had seen enough so we left. James hung around hoping to see more fighting.
I sat on my bunk and listened as Anna explained to Amy that the policeman could not say homicide or murder until the official forensic reports, however he is perfectly able to hint like hell that the kids didn’t die accidentally. And, with respect to Duncan, hell would freeze over before a kid is able to commit suicide in such a manner.
A little later, Anna and Amy departed for school. Matron took the minibus and drove them across the village. Then she stayed at their school too frightened to drive back alone. If Matron was needed, somebody would phone the school. I felt sorry for Matron. Amy and Anna often told me that she got a lot of questions about what it is like to be in an all boys boarding school. Not to mention one that has a certain amount of notoriety. A notoriety that current events won’t be helping.
James and I went down to lessons. Yes, in the middle of all of this lessons were still being held. Well, I suppose it beats trying to work out what to do with a hundred and fifty bored boys who would gravitate to the scene of something unusual like moths to a light.
Lessons passed quickly. Or maybe not. After the morning I was in a bit of a daze so it was rather a waste of my time even turning up. Lunchtime at last. You wouldn’t believe how often some stuff gets recycled. Sunday roast had peas and carrot. We are spared it on Monday. Tuesday gave us a mince mess that thought it was Shepherd’s Pie... with peas and carrots. Wednesday gave us a soup with peas and carrots in it. Today gave us a stew. Lamb, or beef, or... Some kind of meat. Or something that might have been an animal of some description in a previous life. With peas. And carrots. And, god help us, an awful lot of soggy cabbage that had been boiled many hours too long.
Anna and Amy were back marshalling everybody. I saw Matron sitting at a table by herself. I took my tray and sat beside her. Susan, the music teacher, joined us. Followed by the girls when it was the last sitting. Eventually James ambled along and sat opposite Susan. Six people. That completed our table.
Some kids were enjoying their food, wolfing it down like it cost a grand per plate. The rest of us, those that actually had a few working tastebuds in our heads, were pushing the stew around and trying not to eat too much. I picked out the better looking carrot pieces and hunted around for the so-called dumpling.
“I’ll take you out to dinner one of these nights, so you can see what food is supposed to be like”, James said, to Susan.
“No thank you. It’s alright. I’m getting used to... this...”, Susan was lost for exactly the right word to describe that which was on the plate in front of her.
“It’s no problem, honestly.”
“Don’t worry James. Save your money for your own pursuits.”
“I am. Aw, come on, don’tcha love me?”
There was no reply from Susan. James’ joking smile turned more serious. This didn’t look good. I hastily picked up my tray and went to drop it off for washing. I didn’t want to eat this muck anyway.
“Well? Don’t you love me or what?”, James asked.
“Pardon?”, Susan said, astonished.
Anna got up with her tray, and prodded Amy in the back.
“Do you love me?”, James asked.
“Like a line from a song - do you want me, do you need me, will you spend the rest of your life with me? Well, do you?”
“What the f... what d’you mean ‘no’!?”
“I don’t love you. I like you, yes. I want you to be special because you have more talent than you think you do, but love and all that comes with it... No.”
“James! There is no need to be like that.”
“You flirted with me, you made passes at me and now you reject me...”
“I, uh, what? Passes at you?”
“You whore!”, James shouted, “You goddamned mother...mmmmm!”
Matron wrapped her arm around James’ mouth. James bit. Matron released with a yelp.
“You total bloody slut. I hope you get raped repeatedly for the rest of your life and burn in hell.”
James stood up. All eyes were on him.
“You, my office. Now.”, the headmaster said calmly, which belied the fact that his face was bright red.
“Up yours”, James said, and stomped off.
“Oh my”, Anna whispered in my ear, “Where’s a time travelling steam engine when you need one?”
I peeked through the keyhole to the fourth form dormitory. Life had returned to normal in the dining room, everybody talking about James’ little outburst. But up here. James was lying on the wooden slats of his bunk, in the fœtal position. His mattress was half-propped against the wall and his bedclothes were strewn across the floor, as were the contents of his drawers and lockers. Clothes, tapes and some other unidentifiable junk all over the place.
The headmaster appeared. I stopped him from entering the room.
“Look through the keyhole. I don’t think you’ll find him in any kind of communicative mood.”
The headmaster looked, whistled under his breath and walked away. We also went away.
Word didn’t take long to get around. In fact, word got around almost as soon as word was said, and that was without the assistance of SIBA.
“But you can’t leave!”, the headmaster pleaded, “Leaving now will ruin your son’s examination chances and mess up his prospects for life!”
“Pray tell”, the parent asked, “what are my son’s future prospects post mortem?”
By evening assembly, the school’s complement had dropped to between sixty and a hundred pupils. There was so much chaos as parents collected their children, some having left with nothing besides the clothes they were wearing, that the kids unaccounted for totalled forty. Were we about to have a mass killing or did forty kids bugger off when nobody was looking?
There is no place nearby large enough to house all of us, so the police arranged to have the place guarded. They would be in on Friday with lots of weird and wonderful equipment. But for tonight, the best they could manage was to give a few policemen some intimidating American-style truncheons, and leave them to wander the hound halls for the night. It wasn’t missed on me that a psycho murderer and not much was done, but one measly crop circle and an entire platoon turned up, complete with a tank.
As for us. Strictly no going outside. Strictly no opening doors or windows. Strictly at nine o’clock we go to bed and stay there. If you need to make a bathroom call, wet the bed and hope you aren’t on a top bunk. Nobody moves. Nobody does anything. The only times to leave your bed after nine is the fire alarm or if the murderer is in your dormitory. Any deviation from these rules will result in instant expulsion.
I reckon I could count the number that would follow the rules exactly on the fingers of one hand. And that’s being optimistic.
I watched the news on TVS and my jaw dropped when I saw the has-rank policeman being interviewed and he said that it appeared that a group of either wild dogs or wolves were on the loose and everybody in the area should stay indoors, somehow completely glossing over the fact that wolves are not capable of fishing for humans using enormous light fittings as the hook. Then I saw the SIBA logo on-screen as the news programme was mentioning some of the other things that had happened recently. UFOs, dead people, paedophiles, it made this place seem like the centre of weird.
By ten o’clock most of the police cars had gone, leaving a number of uniformed officers in the building. They were decked out in bright fluorescent jackets supposedly so we’d be able to tell who was a good guy and who was not.
Anna sneaked down into gallery. Large metal filing cabinets held the hardcopy student records. Anna planned to pull off the records for the dead kids, and a selection of the missing kids to see if there was any kind of link. The side lights were on in the hall. It was difficult for Anna to see well, but she didn’t want to risk switching any of the proper lights on. Being up there would normally cause her some heat. Being up there after a curfew like today’s would cause her more heat than she’d care to handle. Besides which, her mother might magic her into an obedient little girl that wears braids and a cute white dress with frills. Oh, the humanity!
Anna glanced around nervously, sweat starting to soak her clothes. Looking over the bannister, she saw a policeman walking across the hall and she froze.
“God, Anna. Get a grip”, she whispered to herself. Breathing deeply twice, and stood still until he passed.
Before she knew what was going on, the policeman was flailing and toppling forwards, a curtain pole rammed through his chest. The killer, little more than a tall shadow, grabbed the policeman by the head, his jaw already broken to prevent him screaming. The killer effortlessly twisted the policeman’s head around. A sickening crunch and the writhing stopped.
The killer tore the curtain pole out of the body, almost with a sloshing sound. The killer walked into the middle of the floor and looked up.
Anna’s heart was the only part of her body still active. No motion, no breathing, nothing other than utter terror.
The killer climbed over the bannister between the gallery and the hall and sat down on it. A good-natured looking man with a wide face. He would be the sort of person you would trust your bank account to, if it wasn’t for the curtain rod in his hand, dripping with blood.
He looked away from Anna, then looked back. This time he was different. His nose and eyebrows were much more pronounced and he looked rather ugly.
“Soon”, he said.
Then we was gone, having let himself fall backwards over the bannister.
Amy and I hit the lights and tore across the gallery. Anna was to the end of it, squat on the floor screaming her lungs out. Amazingly, the files of the two dead kids were still in her left hand.
“Was it Colin?”, I asked, “Is he here?”
Anna shook her head.
Amy took the files and stuffed them down the front of her dress just as the police came. They noticed the dead comrade on the floor below and all hell broke loose. It wasn’t hard to notice from up here given that he was spread-eagled face down, with his eyes looking at the ceiling. As soon as Amy saw that, her involvement ceased as she bounced off the floor.
Matron found a blanket for Anna and I then led Anna towards my study while Matron carried her daughter. The duty teacher, Mister Giles (though I never knew if Giles was his given name or his surname) eventually turned up as we were passing the far end of the blue corridor. He was new here, a temp, who didn’t know much about the way we did things. He ignored what Anna said and didn’t seen to think a dead policeman was that big a deal given there were other policemen who weren’t dead. He was more interested in lecturing us on some crap about the youths of today not knowing what discipline is. After that spiel, he laid into Anna saying she should be locked away from society until she had been properly potty trained. Disgraceful, at her age.
We endured his lunatic ranting for a quarter hour until he got fed up and told us to be in bed by half ten or we were on report for the rest of term. We all hurried away, knowing that it had already gone eleven.
Half past eleven, the has-rank policeman turned up. He banged on the upper study block bathroom door.
“Miss? Please come out.” The bathroom was directly opposite my study, so I could see him try the handle several times. Once would have been enough to ascertain that the door was locked. At least he didn’t kick the door down, or shoot out the lock. After all, how was he going to do such a thing? Hit it really hard with a sawn-off truncheon?
The police pair, the pretty female and non-vocal male were asking us questions. Well, she was. He sat there watching us. Maybe he was a robot with a video camera in his head? It was pointless asking questions. The star witness was freaking out alone in the bathroom, I saw nothing. Amy saw far too much and was huddled in the corner, knees up, pressing a pillow against her stomach. She was rocking back and forth, almost imperceptibly, and ignoring everything, quietly singing “The Land Of Make-Believe” to herself, which was all kinds of surreal given the situation. James wasn’t even a part of this. The last I knew he was still lying face down on the bed, probably plotting a bestseller book “101 ways to kill your music teacher”.
I stood up. “Hey, leave her alone”, I said to the policeman still incessantly knocking on the door. “You know...a person much smarter than I will ever be once said that the very definition of madness was to keep repeating an action expecting a different outcome.”
He ignored me, “Miss?”, still banging on the door and rattling the door handle.
I saw a hand grab the has-rank policeman’s shoulder and whirl him around. It was Abigail.
“GO.....AWAY.....”, she said. Actually, she more growled than said. Her voice seemed to have a greater tonal range than normal. She was holding a small black box, one of those little cardboard boxes you can buy in newsagents to stick writing paper inside. It was sealed with black electrical tape. Stencilled on top with what looked like gold leaf was a very ornate letter ‘A’.
The policeman backed off, startled. Abigail calmly rested her hand on the door handle. After a pause she turned the handle, and let herself into the little room, and closed the door behind her.
The police suddenly departed in a muddled commotion. Fearing another body I slammed the door and was about to prop a chair against it when I heard somebody mentioning James. I opened the door and crept along the corridor after them. So much for our curfew. In the fourth form dormitory, the other kids were sitting up in bed as James was running around shouting incoherently. Three policemen were failing to catch him as he dived over or through bunks. He grabbed a pillow and tore it open, throwing handfuls of feathers into the air. I stifled a giggle, and was surprised that the pillow had actual feathers inside. A cloud of feathers was raining down over everybody and everything. I wondered why the police were chasing James. A room that size, wouldn’t it have sufficed to just stand still and wait?
James leapt over a bed and pushed the hat from the policewoman’s head, getting in a good grope at the same time. Before anybody knew what was going on, the male policeman had James pinned to the floor.
“Christ Rozzer, you are alive”, James shouted, and dissolved into helpless giggles.
“Son, have you taken anything?”, the one-with-rank asked.
I decided that this would be a pretty good time to cease being around. I turned to leave and walked straight into a camera. I smiled at the boy holding it as I noticed the high-band transmitter mushroom poking over his shoulder. Good, they’re learning.
Anna and Abigail are alone in the chemistry lab. In the middle of the night. I followed them down and tried not to be seen. Abigail grabbed me, slapped me hard, and told me that trying to hide and peer in the window was a stupid thing to do when something was on the loose and killing people.
I nodded. As usual for Abigail, she was annoyingly right. She told me to remember what curiosity did to the cat, so I meowed. Figuring that this conversation wasn’t going to improve, she locked the outside door and stuck a piece of paper to the inside, then left me in the dark in the cloakroom. What she forgot was that the lower panes of glass of the chemistry room inner door were frosted but the upper panes were not. So I just stood on the cloakroom bench.
Alone together for the first time since ‘the incident with the server’. Anna was holding the black box in her hands.
“Anna?”, Abigail asked quietly.
As much as I had tried to talk Anna into treating this as an experiment, she was utterly freaked out by it. To her mind there was no rational justification for whatever “witchcraft” actually amounted to.
Both paused, Abigail looking at Anna, giving her full concentration. Anna stared at the floor. She absolutely did not want to make eye contact.
“You should get cleaned up”, Abigail said, to be met with no reply.
“We can walk home?”, Abigail offered, “You’ll be safe with me.”
Anna stood up and walked away, still wearing her dirty clothes, still not making eye contact with her mother. Abigail whispered Anna’s name and reached her hand out to Anna. As Anna passed the dustbin by the door, she dropped the black box into the dustbin. Abigail’s hand flailed in thin air, and she burst into tears.
Anna had gone.
James, carrying two large books with a mug of insipid tea perched on top, pushed open the door to his old dormitory. He didn’t know it but he had been sedated, which could explain the headache. He had a fuzzy recollection of Anna messing herself, or maybe it was Amy? Yeah, Anna’s the bossy sensible one, it was probably Amy. There was a load of police and something to do with dead bodies. He decided he’d probably fallen asleep whilst watching another one of those damn stupid low-budget horror films.
James nudged the light switch with his shoulder. Only one light came on. The middle light, but it was buzzing and flickering like a fluorescent tube on the way out. Looking around, all the beds are empty, both upper and lower bunks. The dormitory had a cold musty smell, an unused smell, the way it smells when you are the first one back from the summer holidays.
“Uh-uh... I can’t deal with this.”
James simply turned around and walked away, the books and mug falling to the floor.
Sitting in my study, something came to mind. I don’t know what it was, exactly. I got up and went next door into the old studio study. Some of the older video tapes were stored here. I picked out Fright Night, Near Dark, and The Lost Boys. I couldn’t find The Hunger. I wasn’t sure if it had been taped over or if it was in the SIBA dorm. Shame, Bowie was in that. I picked up the three videos and the portable video player and went back to my study, flicking on the kettle as I entered.
Just as I was plugging in the video player, Amy walked back in wearing a lightweight slip dress - navy blue with small white polka dots. I wasn’t sure if it was a dress or bedclothes. She sat back in the corner and clutched the pillow to her stomach. Anna followed, holding a bottle of milk.
“Hiya”, I said.
“Hi, I’m feeling a little better now.”, Anna replied.
“You’d feel even better wearing some clean clothes”, I suggested.
“I’ve done the best I can. No way I’m going home for clothes that are fresh and dry and bouncy. The only thing that’ll be fresh and dry and bouncy out there would be my body.”, Anna said.
“Fair point, the rozzer didn’t get any further than the hall.”
Desperate to change the subject, Anna said, “Brought you some fresh milk. You two are going to drink a dozen cups of tea, right?”
I smiled. She caught on quick. At that moment, the kettle clicked off. Anna looked at it, surprised, then burst out laughing.
As I made tea for everybody, Anna leaned over the desk and looked at the videos I was had fetched.
“Vampires? Now? Morbid much? What are you thinking?”, Anna said with plenty of accusatory emphasis on the ‘thinking’.
“You might want to include Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Not to mention Nosferatu”, Anna suggested.
“I don’t think they’ve made a serious film of Dracula unless you mean the Hammer one, sure as hell can’t have been the one with that guy from Airplane in it. And Nosferatu, wasn’t that made like seventy years ago?”, I said.
“Jesus bloody hell don’t you bloody read?”, Anna shouted.
After a brief shocked silence, I said “Ah, reading... that’s that thing with ink splots on pieces of paper, right? My psychiatrist gave me a few of those to look at. I just saw ink splots on pieces of paper. I think I might have failed the test.”
Anna rolled her eyes back so far I leapt up, fearing she was fainting. No, she was just rolling her eyes. She sat right on the edge of my bunk and tutted.
“You know, Anna, Americans shouldn’t use the word ‘bloody’, it just sounds weird with your accent”, I said.
“Would ‘screw you’ meet with your approval?”, Anna asked.
“Not quite the same intent, but yeah, that’s okay”, I said, deflecting the obvious message.
Anna sipped her tea quietly for a while. Amy hadn’t moved since Anna’s outburst.
“What on earth makes you think of vampires?”, Anna asked.
“I could have sworn the kid swinging from the rafters had puncture wounds in his neck”, I replied.
“Oh, come on!”, Anna exclaimed, “We’re going from injection marks to vampires?”
“That kid had a puncture wound alright”, Amy whispered, “It was the bloody chandelier.”
I smiled, “See Anna? That’s how you say bloody.”
I pushed a tape into the player and The Lost Boys began to play. Judging by what was happening, I think we were about a third of the way into the film.
“Oh, is that Corey Feldman?”, Anna asked, “I used to have a kind of a crush on him.”
“Used to?”, I asked, “What changed?”
“He’s famous and stuff. I’m... I’m what?”, Anna asked.
“Pretty? Smart? Capable?”, I offered.
Anna stared at me and blinked slowly.
The awkward as hell silence was thankfully broken by Amy.
“Isn’t there another Corey?”, she asked.
“Haim? He’s in this too.”, I replied.
“And?”, Anna asked.
“And what? And ‘Licence to Drive’ and ‘Dream A Little Dream’ and probably some other stuff too.”
For the remainder of the night, Anna and I watched three vampire films. Amy too, though she didn’t manage to stay conscious all the way through. Seeing her there, managing to faint while watching Fright Night which was a horror comedy, I was glad I didn’t have the Bowie film. I saved Near Dark for last, by which time she had mostly fallen asleep so missed much of the film. In her case, that’s probably a good thing.
“What made you think of vampires, of all things?”, Anna asked me.
“Well, the puncture wounds”, I replied, “Plus putting the kid in a place where it took scaffolding to get him down. The lack of blood everywhere. And finally, didn’t you say he was walking on the floor of the hall and then sitting on that bannister threatening you?”
“So, that’s, what? Four, maybe five metres up?”
Her eyes opened wide. It was clear that she hadn’t thought of that.
“Was he wearing a lot of leather?”
“Yes, I could smell it.”
“Well, there you go. Puncture wounds, no blood, impossible abuse of gravity, leather. It’s so obvious.”
Amy woke in the early hours, as usual, so the three of us decided to raid the store room looking for something that might be useful as a weapon. It was too dangerous to go into the village to get holy water from the church, so maybe a clove of garlic would be the next best bet. Amy thought the whole plan was funny. Anna took it a little too seriously.
The stores were two rooms near the kitchen, with a door between them. The room closest to the kitchen held a large freezer and several equally large fridges. The further room contained shelves which were stacked with food, tins and packets.
“Whoa! Look at the size of the beans”, Amy said in a loud whisper, her version of shouting. She was pointing to a very large can of beans. Sadly, not beans by any recognised brand. In fact, most of the stuff here was more Happy Shopper than Heinz, more the misery.
We searched around but the best we could do was a small tin of garlic and onion soup.
“Soup?”, Anna asked, bemused, “This could be a matter of life and death!”
“Well, uh, I dunno”, I said, “It’s a solid tin. Maybe we could hit the vampire across the head with it?”
“Oh, cool. Registered lethal weapon. One can of onion and garlic soup.”
“So what have you found, sweetie?”, I asked Amy.
“Um, nothing”, she whirled around and slammed the refrigerator door shut with her foot.
“Come on, I know you’re hiding something.”
“It won’t work, really it won’t.”
I opened the refrigerator. The lower half was packed with catering packs of homogenized milk. Higher up were an assortment of skimmed, semi-skimmed and Jersey milk for the fussy staff members. Then some cheese. Huge chunks of some hideously nasty looking cheddar look-a-like. Wensleydale (for the staff, not us), Jarlsberg (I thought that was a type of beer) and some New Zealand extra-matured cheddar that rated about eight on a scale of one to five. My eye was drawn to a small package of organic home-produced garlic cheddar.
“You know”, Anna said, “that some cultures are defined by their cheeses.”
“Whoever would have thought you could get such variety from squeezed mouldy milk?”, I asked.
We picked up the cheese and moved on to the next refrigerator.
I opened the chunky insulated door. “Holy crap!”, and with that I slammed the door shut. Anna cautiously walked over, opened the door, and looked inside. Stacks and stacks of leftovers. It was obviously done in rotation, as the stuff at the top was dated today and good looking. The stuff at the bottom was, well, mouldy... and worse.
“I wouldn’t stand there too long, else you’ll be picking bits of puke off of your dress for the rest of the morning”, I blurted. Looking at that a second time, I felt a part of me die. Specifically that big empty sac in front of my spleen.
“It’s only a lower lifeform, kinda like the cheese”, Anna replied.
We were sitting on chairs and beds in my study, staring at the unwrapped garlic cheese as if it might suddenly turn into Johnny Hart’s ‘Morph’ and start dancing around the desk it was on. James was with us, having calmed down and been given a caution for assaulting a police officer.
“This was the best we could do?”, I muttered.
“Yeah. Cheese and a can of soup.”, Anna replied.
“What the hell happened to regular garlic? The thing that looks like a weird onion?”, I asked.
“Well”, Anna said, “I think we are having an enforced reality check. This is a boarding school. Certain foods will never appear. Like garlic, olives, meat from identifiable animals, et cetera...”
“Decent tea”, Amy suggested.
“Proper ketchup”, I mentioned.
“Sod this crap”, James announced, standing up from the bunk he was lying back on, “I’m going to have myself a little look-see.”
“What, on your own?”, Amy asked.
“What, out there?”, I added.
“Yeah, so?”, James replied.
“Haven’t you seen, like, every horror movie ever? Go out there and you’re history”, I told James.
“I don’t want you lot holding me back”, James replied.
“Pardon?”, Anna gasped.
“I mean, we’re like the bloody Scooby gang. Two girls, two boys. We are only missing the dog!”, James said.
“Or the Famous Five, or the kids from the Adventure series”, I muttered.
“Shut up”, James barked. He left, and nobody got up to stop him.
“What the hell is up with him?”, Anna asked.
“Good question”, I replied, “It appears he’s unfortunately contracted a severe case of wankeritis. Usual symptoms are a large mouth, followed by black eyes. If not treated early, can often prove to be fatal.”
Anna coughed, then giggled, then looked embarrassed.
James wandered the bottom of the field. Feeling sad and lonely, yet somehow excited and happy. Sad and lonely because he just lashed out at his best friends, the few people he could turn to. But feeling happy because now they all know how big a bunch of assholes they really are. Two girls, one boy. One girl with a big IQ and a superiority complex, the other that should still be in nappies. And that leaves the co-founder of SIBA who likes to think he is clever but he’s really a bit of a dick. It was his dead friend that had the skills.
All in all, an utter bunch of assholes. And James, righteous James - who isn’t an asshole - told them so.
And on the subject of assholes, Susan should be lying here, on the field, naked, with everybody in the county defecating on her. That’s all she is. One big pile of crap. The headmaster, He deserves to die because, well, who gives a damn? Kill him on principle. The last one was bad enough, better kill this one before he gets ideas. That temp bloke too. And the same for the rest of the staff. And hell, nuke the whole bloody school. Kill everybody. Best damned thing for it.
I was worried about James. He had his ups and downs. He mood swings were quite severe. His highest high that I’ve known about had him nearly ejaculating in French class when Susan filled in and spoke beautiful French. And the lowest low before now was David’s death, when he locked himself in his shack and drank several six-packs of beer in one go, and was surprisingly lucid considering. But on the whole he was best describable as excitable and inquisitive. But recently he had been acting very strangely, flicking from hatred to happiness in a matter of seconds. Like when Anna saw the first policeman murdered, he went from insulting Anna to dancing around laughing and showering the place with feathers from a pillow in no time at all. Something was wrong with this picture, and it was really starting to get to me.
I lost a good friend in David because I hadn’t noticed any warning signs.
James was giving out warning signs like I couldn’t believe, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out what they meant.
James wandered the bottom of the field marvelling at the incredible foggy gloom that had rolled in from the sea in June. It was uncharacteristically chilly. He froze when a figure with a truncheon picked him out and called over to him. Within moments James was forgotten as the figure, obviously a policeman, started whacking another figure brutally with the truncheon, an American style truncheon, the long one with the side handle. The policeman hit the figure again and again. It sat up, and the policeman hit it over the head repeatedly. And in the silhouette, James saw the ‘victim’ stand up next to the policeman, and plunge it’s arm into him. James would have been inclined to believe the victim tried to punch the policeman and missed, if it wasn’t for the squirt of blood as the hand ripped out the back of the man’s body... Or the fact that the victim thing grabbed onto the man’s intestines and held onto them as the body fell uselessly to the ground. James watched in fascinated horror as several other figures faded in from the gloom, approached the body, leaned over and started eating from it.
James was totally silent and totally still for an entire six minutes, probably the longest waking quiescence since he was born. The creatures - they can’t be human, the rest of the gang had some stupid idea about vampires, but such things are just fiction. But this? What the actual hell was this?
Five more minutes had passed, those sick cannibalistic miscreants had departed, just walking away and fading into the gloom again. James crept over to the body and looked down. In short order, the entire contents of James’ digestive system violently disgorged itself from his body and left him face down on the ground seeing stars. Worse, he’d puked all over the remains of the corpse.
For the first time in his life, James felt proper fear. A terror that made it hard to think, hard to concentrate. They could be waiting just out of sight. Would he still be alive as his innards were torn out and... eaten...? Running towards the school building he stumbled to the ground and retched hard. Only pain. He remembered this from having food poisoning once, that the worst part was trying to puke when there was nothing left. He made it to the front door, still seeing stars. Holding on to the handle for fear that his legs would give out. He wanted to slap himself, shout “get a grip asshole!” but his body just wasn’t reacting. All his bravado and I-don’t-care attitude had evaporated. Now it was a question of could he make it to something resembling safety? He opened the front door noisily then remembered this was where that kid was found and the policeman died. His legs gave out and he flailed on his way to the floor. He wouldn’t remember hitting the flagstone floor as by then he was unconscious.
James lay on the floor panting. Was this how Amy felt? It was horrible. Disorientating. He knew sort of where he was, sort of where he wanted to be, but his body didn’t want to move. He realised he was shivering. Violently. Like he was butt naked in the middle of a field full of snow.
James heard a noise from behind, in the doorway, a monster, it was huge, it... he blinked and saw nothing at all. But he’d heard... he... bugger it. With all the willpower he could muster up, he dragged his body into action. And he ran up the main stairs, across the landing, by the fourth form dormitory, by SIBA, and towards the study block. Screaming like a girl the entire way.
I heard James coming from what felt like a mile off. Either that or he’s really as lame a runner as he pretends to be. I held open the door to my study and James ran in, carried on running, straight into the wooden door of the wardrobe, and knocked himself out.
“Nine out of ten for the entrance”, I said, offering him a wet towel to hold to his head.
James sat still for a few moments and then stood up and started shouting incoherently at Anna. Something about intestines. Anna tried to calm him down, he responded by trying to punch her but she ducked out of the way to the best he managed was to punch the wall. He spun around and booted Amy in the stomach, knocking her flying off the chair to land in a heap on the floor vomiting. I got up from my bed and I’ve never wanted to punch anybody in my life more than I wanted to punch him right now. I drew my fist back and threw the punch...into Anna’s chest. What? Why? Huh? She was suddenly standing in front of James, and by all accounts it looked like she was blocking my reaction. I tried to pull back at the last moment, I’m not sure if I was entirely successful, but Anna didn’t seem fazed by it. Maybe I’m just crap at punching?
“He’s mine, check Amy”, she said.
“I’m yours, bitch?”, James said.
Without even turning to face him, she jabbed her elbow into his stomach. As he started to double over, she whirled around and kneed him in the groin so hard his feet left contact with the ground.
“That’s for Amy”, Anna said coldly.
She looked at me.
“She’s awake now, hurt, but nothing seems broken”, I said. I sat behind Amy and held her as she lay, barely daring to move.
Anna picked up James, pulled out the chair and dumped him into it. She was forceful so he fell off. She repeated the manoeuvre and this time James had the sense to stay on the chair. James looked down.
“Thank you”, James said, a little harshly.
“Uh...?”, was all Anna could manage.
“I knew if I hurt Amy you’d beat the crap out of me”, James said.
“Wait, hang on, you wanted that?”, I exclaimed.
“Yes. After what’s just happened, I wanted the nightmare to end. Getting pasted brought me back to reality”, he explained.
“Dude, no, nobody wants to get beaten up...”, I was about to add “by a girl” but thought better of it.
After a really long pause, James explained what he had seen, in emotions somewhere between exasperated and angry. I held onto Amy’s head as she clocked out when James got to the really graphic descriptions of the body.
At the end of the descriptions, Anna said “Okay, I’ll come with you to look at the body” in that nice soothing voice that I could listen to for hours. It didn’t work on James though. He was still angry. He got up and stomped outside.
I tried to get Amy up to shower off the front of her dress or something, but she told me that we had to follow. It wasn’t safe the two of them out there. I had no choice but to follow as she half ran, half stumbled out of the study. I caught her at the stairs just as she was about to fall down them. We made it down, and I saw Amy go to the payphone and yank the handset and cord from the phone. She held the end of the cord and swung the handset in the air a few times.
“Weapon”, she said, “might come in handy.”
I looked at the weapon and had this horrible realisation that Amy wasn’t worried about Anna with murderous lunatics, she was worried about Anna with James.
We slipped out the side door and caught up with James and Anna half way across the oval. Anna was about to say something but then noticed Amy swinging the phone handset menacingly while never taking her eyes off of James. Amy tripped on the grass edge to the oval but never once stopped watching James.
We reached the body and my instinct was to gag. Anna... she was cool about the whole thing. Her eyes were open so wide you’d want to hold your hands beneath her head in case her eyes fell out. She was shaking visibly and panting shallowly. Scared stiff, but she knew what was expected. To look over the body, touching little of it as possible, to see if there was any sane theory for why it was there in that state.
Come on, who am I kidding? The stomach was ripped open, bits of the small intestine snaked away across the grass. The lungs, liver, heart - most of the contents of the abdomen - were missing. Hell, even the stomach had been ripped open. I could see carrots. And the smell of the stomach. Concentrated puke. If Anna put her hands anywhere near that, I’m seriously going to honk myself.
Amazingly Amy hadn’t fainted. Her gaze was fixed on James in a way that was starting to be creepy.
Anna’s eyes were streaming with tears, her hands bloodied. I somehow found the strength to keep my dinner from fertilizing the grass. I helped Anna stumble back to the main building. Amy walked with us, backwards, never once looking at anything other than James.
Back in my study, Anna sat on the chair and started to bury her face in her hands, then realised that her hands were bloody. Amy carefully placed the phone handset on the table, and flicked the door with her foot, slamming it in James’ face.
“Nicely passive-aggressive”, I commended Amy. I was impressed. This is the bravest I’ve seen her, well, ever. Amy smiled, then promptly fainted. Okay, I guess I should have expected that.
I opened the study door to help Anna wash herself up.
“I’ll uh go and let the rozzers know another of their number is a carcass”, James said.
“Perhaps not in those exact terms”, I suggest.
“If you say so.”
“And, just a suggestion mate, but stop being such a prick.”
James turned and walked away.
I led Anna into the bathroom and we both gasped at what was laid out on the counter behind the sink. Dove soap, Ulay body wash lotion, antibacterial washing liquid, Swarfega and several other things with fancy names.
“Your mother or Amy’s?”, I asked, regarding the selection of products.
“Which should I use”, Anna asked in reply.
“Look at your hands”, I said.
“You’re right, all of them.”
I stood behind Anna and washed her hands while she rested against the sink sobbing heavily. The water was red, then pinkish, then clear. I tossed the empty washing up liquid bottle into the shower stall behind me, and reached for the next product.
Half an hour later, the job was done. I helped Anna back to my study and sat her gently on the chair.
“You good, Amy?”, I asked, “Don’t need to be changed or anything?”
“I’m okay, it’s just this”, she said, pointing to where she’d thrown up. I winced. I’d forgotten that.
Amy stood up, took my hand, and walked to the shower.
“Wow, you washed her with all this stuff?”, Amy asked, surveying the pile of empty containers in the stall.
“Yeah, I gotta pick all that...” but before I could finish the sentence, Amy was already picking up empty packets. I joined her, and we attempted to put it all into the tiny bin under the sink.
She stood up, stood in the shower, and started rinsing down the front of her dress.
“This stuff has been there a while, could you get a flannel and rub at it?”, she asked.
I didn’t see a flannel, but I did see a small towel. I took that, held it to Amy’s breast, and then decided that this could be a really bad idea.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind, you’re not James”, she said, flicking her hair behind her ear like she does when she is nervous which is, let’s face it, all the time.
“I’m not sure anybody else would see it that way”, I replied, handing her the towel. She started rubbing energetically at the stains on the front of her dress. Not wanting to leave her by herself, I closed the shower stall and leaned on the sink.
“You were pretty creepy back there”, I said.
“With that bit of the phone, and the fact that you never once stopped looking at James.”
“If he did anything to Anna...”, her voice faded away.
“Are you even aware why we went out there?”
“I could smell something that smelled like death, that was more than I needed to know.”
“Me too, I could have done without knowing about that.”
“Did Anna really examine the body?”
“Yeah, she really did.”
After a long pause, Amy said, “I’m not sure if she’s amazing or crazy.”
“I think she needed to prove something to herself.”
“I don’t know. It’s been hard for her lately. She only just got over the aliens when her mother outed herself as a witch, and hinted strongly that Anna was one too, and while she’s dealing with that, we’re under attack by an unknown number of vampires for unknown reasons.”
Amy opened the shower door. She was a lot cleaner, but utterly drenched. “Do you really think it’s vampires?”
“Yes, no, maybe. Everything they are doing fits, and you kind of have to be a special sort of awful to kill somebody and then eat them, but the idea of vampires, of people turning into bats and all that rubbish? It’s preposterous.”
“Maybe we have a few things to learn about vampires?”, Amy suggested.
I was going to raise the idea of a vampire/zombie hybrid creature, but then remembered who I was talking to, and decided not to.
When I went back to my study, James was sitting on my bed with Anna in the chair. As soon as Amy saw James, she grabbed the phone handset.
“Hey, it’s alright. I feel better”, James said. Amy kept hold of the handset.
I sat on the bed beside James, and Amy sensing what was coming, sat on the floor in the corner.
“Hey, you’re soaked, come here”, Anna said. Amy came and Anna sat Amy on her lap and put her arms around Amy. I guess she was as worried about Amy’s intentions with the handset as I was.
I reached over and gently took the handset from her hand. I saw James visibly relax afterwards.
“Okay, we all cool now?”, I asked.
“Why you being a bit of a dick?”, I asked him, directly.
After a stunned silence, he replied, “You two are pretty much all I have for friends, and I’m never going to see either of you again in a few weeks. I’m a bit upset about that.”
“Anna will be around, she’ll be doing sixth form or something”, I said.
“No”, Anna replied.
“No?”, I asked.
“No”, she repeated, “I’m going to join an undergraduate programme at Princeton.”
“Princeton? What’s that? Some uni in Cambridge?”, I asked.
“Close, New Jersey.”
“New Jersey?”, I exclaimed, “You mean...”, I said emphatically pointing westwards.
“Yup, the New Jersey between Delaware and New York”, Anna said.
“How...?”, was all I could manage.
“Because I’m really smart. I’m an American, in case my accent wasn’t a clue. And there’s no way I’m hanging around here to discover that God is really a giant eyeball lurking inside the old Victorian era boiler.”
“Hang on, aren’t you two like... you know... boyfriend girlfriend?”, James asked.
“No”, Anna replied coldly, putting her mug of lukewarm tea down, “He’s already taken.”
She... what? “I am?”, I asked.
“Clearly he’s too stupid to see it”, Anna said.
“Okay, okay, guys!”, Amy said quietly, “if we carry on like this we’re all going to fall out with each other.”
She had a point.
“So basically the two big questions we need to be asking right now are why is there a torn-apart body outside and what are we up against?”, Amy continued.
“You saw it?”, Anna asked in surprise.
“No, I was watching him”, Amy replied, gesturing towards James, “But my ears work, I heard you.”
“Well... we... this is how it is”, Anna said, “I know the idea of vampires” (she used air quotes) “is floating around but nowhere do I recall anything about bodies being ripped open like that. A vampire is supposed to gain health by drinking fresh blood. I don’t see where, uh, dissection ... is an issue.”
A pause, nobody said a word.
“The findings are more conclusive of an attack by wolves like the police think or...”
“...what the hell do you mean...”, James interrupted.
“...no, James. I’m not calling you a liar. We should consider the vampire possibility, sure, but we must also consider other more realistic possibilities. However our best course of action is to continue with whatever we have in the way of vampire protection.”
“Anna, honey”, I asked, “if you don’t think it was a vampire - why do you recommend that we protect ourselves against them?”
“Good question, honey”, Anna replied with a faint smile, “If it is a wolf, we lock ourselves in this room and don’t go out again until somebody gives the all-clear. However vampires have intelligence. They can open doors and so on. It would really be best to protect ourselves for a worst-case scenario, and hope like hell it isn’t true.”
“I really don’t want to bring this up”, Amy said, holding her arms tight against herself in a classic ‘terrified Amy’ position, one hand on her heart and the other arm across her abdomen, “but, um... I, uh...”
“Amy?”, Anna beckoned.
“Well, you see, I... If the accepted ideas about vampires are wrong... What... what if, uh...”, spluttered Amy. She held up a lump of garlic cheese and started to cry.
We looked at each other. She had a very good point.
But right now, folklore was our best, our only, hope of survival. If my theory was correct. Which I hope wasn’t the case.
Well, the police animal control people came with flashing strobes and sirens. I leaned out of the window and watched as a group of men armed with tranquilliser shots and nets walked into the gloom. Shortly after the police radios went nuts with what sounded like everybody shouting at the same time, and then silence. In my study, we had SIBA on the TV. It was weird, no broadcast other than a single camera looking out over the oval. I’m sure if James and I had been doing it, we’d have either interviewed one of the vampires by now, or broadcast ourselves getting eaten. The new guys in SIBA just didn’t have the same gung ho craziness that we demonstrated a few times too often. Still, the mostly quiet transmission was enough to catch the police as they radioed messages around. They had upgraded their original evaluation from “wolves” to “ maybe bears” or “perhaps some sort of wildcat”. At any rate, extremely deadly as the guys tasked with rounding up the beasts ceased responded to radio calls. The normal police who had gone out to hang around the various vehicles suddenly decided that being outside was perhaps not the smartest of ideas. Some retired to the headmaster’s office, others picked a dormitory and stayed with the boys that remained, and I’m sure were subjected to such a barrage of questions that they’d regret turning up for work.
Matron came in with a large plate holding numerous pieces of toast, and what looked like several ladles of beans on top. “Sorry”, she said, “with all that’s going on, I had to make it myself.”
“What, alone in the kitchen?”, I asked.
“No, Giles and Abbie were there.”
“The temp? What good do you think he’d be?”
“None at all. I’m just hoping a wild wolf will go for the tasty human closest. That would be him. If that fails, I had knives and pans I could throw. And Abigail had a secret weapon. A can of deodorant and a lighter.”
“Oh, nice. Did she demonstrate?”
“A little too eagerly. Anyway, enjoy breakfast and lunch and I’ve got to go back and make another eighty pieces of toast.”
Shoelaces, acorn caps and little bits of cheese were the ingredients that Amy was using to attempt to make everybody a garlic necklace. It’s not going so well, getting the cheese to stay in the acorn caps is a bit of a fool’s errand, but given that nobody really thinks that garlic cheese will make the grade we let Amy get on with it. Why do vampires fear garlic anyway? I can understand the pointy end of a bit of wood, I can understand the religious undertones of having a crucifix waved, in some alternate world where the power of God is an actual thing, I can even understand the explosive sunburn... but garlic? It just doesn’t make sense. A person that may or may not have some sort of supernatural ability when it comes to the laws of gravity, a person who tears open a man to feast on the innards, running away screaming from a small smelly onion-like vegetable? It’s nonsense.
That said, Amy was actually eating quite a lot of the cheese. I remembered she likes Italian, so cheese and garlic will be no big deal. By the time she’s finished, there ought to be enough Allicin in her bloodstream to make her invincible.
Meanwhile James and Anna were shaving bits of wood that used to be chairs in order to make stakes.
Me? I’m lashing together two bits of wood to make a cross. I can’t see it being useful, but since we only have two sharp knives and a pair of scissors that struggle to cut plain paper, I couldn’t join in with the stake making.
I held up my finished cross and looked at it closely.
“Great, protection with a religious symbol I don’t believe in. Who am I kidding?”, I muttered, throwing the cross over my shoulder.
“Whoa!”, Amy said.
“Uh?”, I replied.
“You killed the Vamp-HS machine!”
I turned around. The cross landed at just the right angle to wedge itself into the portable video player on the desk.
“Oh...”, I replied, lost for words. I’m glad Amy saw that, as I could try that a billion times in front of an audience and it would never happen again.
I turn back. A Kodak moment perhaps, but I seriously doubt I’ll be having problems with The Undead Video Recorder From Hell. Besides, weren’t they known as “V2000”? Maybe the ‘V’ stood for “vampire”?
Anna reached over and took the cross, adding it to her collection of wooden implements.
Amy slipped out, excusing herself to go to the toilet. James and Anna had an appreciable pile of sharp wooden things, but it was tedious going. This was enough for James. He grabbed a can of soup and a few stakes and announced that he was going to examine the cellar.
As soon as he was gone, Anna looked up at me. “The cellar?”
“Probably going to find a room that can be securely locked, and ride this one out”, I replied.
“Doesn’t he know vampires are supposed to keep coffins in places like that?”
I wasn’t aware of any coffins being delivered. I would imagine that would be an impossible thing to keep secret in a place like this.
“What’s taking Amy so long?”, I said, glancing over at the Maplin LED clock that I built myself one weekend.
Just as I was about to worry, Amy burst in the door with a large smile on her face.
“Look what I confiscated off of a junior”, she said.
Amy whipped around a large sleek looking crossbow. Serious hunting equipment, not some kiddie toy.
“It’s okay”, Amy called out as Anna and I instinctively dived to the floor, “I won’t shoot you guys, I don’t even know how to use this thing.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of”, Anna replied.
“What d’you mean ‘That’s what you’re afrai...’”, Amy began. The crossbow in her hand fired. The arrow went through the window.
“Ohmigod!”, Amy cried, with some actual volume to her voice, “I’m so sorry!”
Amy thrust the weapon into my hands as Anna asked “Where on earth did this come from?”
I held up the crossbow and looked down it. Carbon compound body, fine bow with adjustment levers. Dark graphite grey colouring and a clip holding eleven arrows. Around Amy’s shoulder was a rucksack with more arrows within.
“Oooh, flying fatalism, I like this”, I muttered, reaching for an arrow.
“You mean fatality”, Amy said softly, “Fatalism is... something else.”
“Do crossbows work on vampires?”, Anna asked.
“The arrow is wood isn’t it?”, I asked back.
Anna took an arrow and tried to snap it. “No, there’s a bit of metal at the tip, plastic feathers, and I think the arrow itself is some sort of carbon fibre compound. Not a bit of wood in this.”
“Oh...crap”, I said, placing the crossbow on the table, “Well, it was a good idea, Amy.”
“And if nothing else, not having this in the hands of a junior is probably a good thing”, Anna said.
“Wasn’t the kid you got this from upset about handing it over to you?”, I asked.
“No, he has a hunting rifle. But I knew that bullets wouldn’t have any wood in them.”
“Hunting rifle?”, Anna asked, “No, on second thoughts, I don’t wanna know.”
“It’s that kid, you know, always going on and on about shooting pheasants?”, Amy said.
“Ah, the one that says he lives in a castle?”, I asked. Amy nodded. “Well, the weapons fit the story”, I said.
“But they shouldn’t be here”, Anna retorted, “this isn’t Nevada.”
For about the fiftieth time, Amy quietly said to herself, “I will not faint”. She was stumbling behind Anna and myself in some kind of daze. She was here, but not sure why. And not really caring either.
“The way I see it, lying in bed pretending to doze off isn’t safe”, I said.
“The way I see it, walking around looking for vampires is a pretty lame idea. Sometimes it is better to hide”, Anna replied.
“James has monopoly on that option.”
I swept the grid with the crossbow, ready to pull on anything that moved. I knew it wouldn’t kill a vampire, but it ought to send a message. Or, at least, give us time to run. Anna was tightly holding my cross. Amy’s backpack was full of our stakes. Bushes, stair rods, chair legs... anything wooden that count be made into a point. It was dusk, there was just enough light to see if you concentrated.
I heard a noise and quickly skipped back beside the observatory. I didn’t see anything. I crept around the observatory twice, the second time in the opposite direction. Then I jumped up and fired an arrow over the roof. Nothing. Nobody.
Anna and Amy were further along the side of the building, outside the library, when a “it” appeared. In the flesh, they’re damned ugly. They’re damned... and ugly. Anna, face to face with it, froze up. The not-person laid hands on Anna and exposed her neck. I’m in such a panic that I’m dropping arrows all over the place. My hands are shaking too much to load the crossbow properly. I hear a high pitched half-strangled scream and look up, fearing the worst.
Amy charged the vampire, staking him. The vampire punches Amy in the side of the head and says something I can’t quite hear, then explodes into dust.
By the time I’ve collected my arrows and run over to the girls, they are hugging. Anna is in tears.
“It... what? Dust...”, Anna gasped, “...can’t happen... not... no... impossible.”
“Right, so we’re really truly dealing with vampires”, I said.
“It can’t be”, Anna cried.
“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and is a type bird that floats on water, it absolutely isn’t a llama”, I said.
“But... person into dust? There’s no scientific premise whatsoever for such a thing. It’s preposterous!”
We manage to cross the grass oval with no problems. Part way down the driveway however, we spot three vampires intimidating a junior who is a nervous wreck. The remains of his friend are nearby, and one of the vampires is doing a really naff impression of John Travolta in that disco film while spinning the dead kid’s guts around in the air. It is astonishingly hammy. At the end of the driveway, a television outside broadcast van was parked. It looked deserted. I briefly wondered if I could break in and hijack the signal of whoever’s van it was and get some sort of footage out to the world.
I blinked, and saw Anna running for one of the vampires, shouting “You can’t be real!”
“Oh bugger”, I muttered.
I calmly walked out of Anna’s trajectory and fired the crossbow at a vampire. Direct hit to the lung. But the vampires don’t drop dead. They don’t appear to feel much pain either.
Anna staked a vampire, then froze startled as it exploded into dust. Every bit of Anna’s mind was telling her this shouldn’t be happening. A vampire grabbed Amy and threw her hard, right over an eight foot stone wall. While I’m trying to pick up one of the stakes that fell out of Amy’s backpack, I realise one is standing over me.
“I’m not Thunderchild”, I said, tugging back the crossbow string and firing it right into the vampire’s gut. The vampire goes to his knees so I roll over and up, and when standing I kick the vampire in the crotch for good measure. Well, they might not be bothered about an arrow in the lung, but that appeared to hurt. Good.
I spot a stake on the ground, snatch it up, and dive at the vampire with the stake held in front of me.
I crash to the ground, spitting nasty tasting dust. Gotta agree with Anna. People turning into dust is just plain weird.
Looking around, I see the dancing vampire has taken Anna’s dress off. Anna isn’t wearing much besides a blouse, underwear and her shoes. The vampire places his hand between her legs. Anna is smiling and flirting back. I’m just standing there, mouth open. I drop the crossbow and just stare. Anna is unbuttoning her blouse. Then she stops.
“No, no, honey. Good things come to those who wait!”, Anna says sweetly.
The vampire grunts.
“Hey now, turn around. Let me undo my bra and then...then... Come on, turn around honey”
The vampire turns around, Anna slowly unfastens her bra strap. There is a stake lying on the ground. She kicked her foot under it and flipped it into the air. With a smooth ballet-like motion, she clutched the stake, span the vampire around to face him and plunged the stake into his chest. As the vampire stumbled back, she span around on one foot and use her other foot to kick the stake so hard it tore out of his back. Anna lost balance and fell to the ground amid a cloud of dust.
“Can’t do that wearing a tight skirt”, Anna said, “Goddamn men only after one thing.”
I decided now would be a really bad time to suggest she do up her bra and blouse and put her dress back on.
“Amy’s on the other side of the wall”, I said, walking away quickly.
I went around the little cottage that was the languages classroom and through the gate to the pool. Amy was right in the middle of the pool, going in circles backstroke.
“You okay there?”, I asked, “Are you hurt?” Didn’t I already ask her that once already tonight?
“Uh-hu”, she replied, “he threw me so hard I landed here.”
I looked around. Concrete paving slabs surrounded the pool. She’d have been injured or killed had she landed there. I guess the water was the softest landing.
I helped Amy out of the pool and took care to pay no attention to Anna as she finished dressing. As we are trying to decide where to go next, we heard an engine. Pressing ourselves against the wall, we see the kid that we had only just rescued bathed in light from the headlights of a car that bounced sharply as it traversed the sleeping policeman. Two sickening crunches later, the car had passed and the kid is now rather dead, his twisted and broken body ground into the tarmac. Another crunch, and the car stopped with it’s engine ticking over erratically. After a few seconds the engine died with an almighty backfire that flashed in the darkening sky.
Fearing an injured driver, we rushed over to the car. But there was nobody around, just an open door and what sounds like a recording of an Asian person struggling over saying “Please fasten your seat belt” playing over and over.
Anna closed the car door and we headed towards the pond. Maybe it would be safer down by the animal enclosures, away from the fifty or so walking meat sacks that were still in the main building. We walked around the pond and avoided the gravel path by the ornamental gardens. Instead we planned to sneak through a gap in the hedgerow. Anna was the first to go through the gap. Her first step, and her leg sunk into the mud slightly above the ankle. Anna stood with her foot in the mud for about half a minute as she tried looking to see how much further this went. After a while, she pulled her foot out of the mud, turned around and began to walk the other way.
So, gravel path it is.
A vampire was standing on the squat wall bordering the ornamental garden. When he knew that Anna had noticed him, he jumped down onto the gravel, making a scrunch noise that we all noticed.
“Uh...”, Anna said, looking around for a weapon better than the crucifix in her hands, but Amy’s backpack was out of reach.
“Okaaaay”, Anna said, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“Make it the easy way. I’m hungry”, the vampire replied.
Anna whipped the cross around and waved it at the vampire. The vampire leaned closer to the cross, inspecting it.
“Good craftsmanship. It’s a pity to have to kill somebody that can create so well”, the vampire said.
Anna looked shocked for a brief second.
“Wondering what’s wrong, little girl?”, the vampire explained, “An interesting faith, choosing a device of torture to represent the love of God. Well, I don’t believe and neither do you. You might as well be waving a smoked haddock in my face.”
Anna looked around, confused. We helpfully shrugged. Well, that’s one bit of mythology blown away.
“Any better ideas?”, the vampire taunted.
Anna sighed, then confidently said, “I guess the hard way it is”.
Staring directly at the vampire, she flipped the crucifix around and plunged it into the vampire’s chest. The vampire snarled, tried to grab Anna, and burst into a cloud of dust before managing to touch her.
Anna span the crucifix around and blew the top of it as if it was a gun in a western.
We followed her down the gravel path and reached the animal enclosures. I was about to say something when Anna held her hand up. We stopped. Anna beckoned for two stakes, which Amy handed her, then she slunk along the the wall of the animal sheds, the back of the rabbit sheds. There, she walked to the side of a muddy puddle and waited, flat against the wall beside an alley between two sheds.
Amy and I looked at one another. Then at Anna. Should we stay here? Should we approach? Nothing happened for about thirty seconds, then it all happened at once.
Anna whipped around and rammed a stake into each of the two vampires rushing up the alleyway. She slammed herself into the puddle amidst the shower of dust. The third vampire ran right over her and slowed, wondering how Amy and I took out his companions from where we were standing. Anna sat up and threw her own stake at a fourth vampire, who did the dust thing. Anna splashed her arms around in the puddle to retrieve the first two stakes. Then she stood up. The third vampire noticed Anna and rushed her, knocking the stakes from her hand, leaving her defenceless. He grabbed her by the neck, lifted her from the ground and shook her, throwing Anna into the wall. I’m not exactly sure what happened next as I was occupied with catching Amy’s unconscious body, suffice to say that I would swear on a pile of programming manuals (I don’t believe either so swearing on a bible is pointless) that the vampire tried to attack Anna and she punched him so hard he flew backwards into a tree, snapping his neck. A vampire can obviously take damage like that, as he got up pretty quickly and charged Anna again.
Gently poking Amy in the face to revive her, I quietly say “Watch, something really weird is going on”. The vampire made it to Anna who lifted her leg and kicked the vampire right through the wall of the shed, through the shed, and through the wall on the other side. Chickens came charging out of the hole in the wall, making their displeasure very clear.
The vampire appeared on the roof of the shed. Anna vaulted up to the roof, surprising the vampire who was expecting mere humans to run screaming. She grabbed him, spun him around, and rushed right off the roof. We watched in dumbstruck silence as the vampire flew through the air and slammed into the ground, Anna landing on top, her knee sinking hard into his chest. I felt Amy flinch hard, and I’m sure she felt me do the same. The vampire howled in pain as it sounded like every bone in his body broke at the same time.
“Give me your jacket”, Anna said.
The vampire shook his head. Anna got him in the groin, hard.
“Your jacket. Now.”
She spun him around, tore his jacket from his body, then reached up and snapped a branch from an oak tree, plunging it into his back. A few seconds later, dust. Ditto the leather jacket that Anna was holding.
At this, Amy broke from my grasp and ran into the darkness.
Anna stood up. “I don’t get how they turn into dust. And I really don’t get how their clothes do as well.”
I said nothing. I couldn’t. There were no words.
“Looks like your theory was correct”, she said, as she walked by, then grabbed me by the collar and pulled me. I resisted.
“What?”, Anna asked.
“Don’t you realise there is somebody missing?”, I replied, “she went that way.” I pointed the opposite direction.
Amy leaned against the fence post and looked around, right into the eyes of a vampire. She let out a short choked scream and wet herself. Stumbling backwards, she discovered there was no more backwards. Just a fence post. A solid fence post.
The vampire laughed and reached for Amy’s neck.
Amy ducked to the side.
“I’m not afraid of you”, Amy said.
“Lies. You are terrified. Look at you”, the vampire replied.
“I’m not afraid. Not afraid. Not.” Tears were flowing down Amy’s cheeks.
“You are a stupid little girl. Fear me or not, I’m drinking your blood, now...”
“Notafraidnotafraidnotafraidnotnotnot”, Amy whimpered.
The vampire headbutted Amy, then was about to feast on the unconscious body when a small wooden object flew through the air and hit the post. The vampire looked up and saw Anna approaching.
“She was trying hard to tell you she wasn’t afraid. Me? I am quite enjoying this.”
I hung back, wondering if Anna wasn’t getting a little psycho. The next stake didn’t miss, and another pile of dust. Anna grabbed Amy and pulled her to her feet.
I had only staked a couple of vampires, and let me tell you, it is actually quite difficult to stake a vampire. Plunging a bit of wood into a body takes some effort. And amongst all that, you have to be sure to get the thing through the heart. And that dust. Oh my god, it’s like throwing the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag in your face. The smell is old and rancid, and the taste is... I don’t even know how to describe the taste.
“Here, you can buy yourself some time with this”, I said to Amy, handing her the crossbow. It won’t kill, but it ought to be a short sharp shock to give you time to do the pointy wood thing, or just run away.”
“I was scared”, Amy muttered, carassing the crossbow as we headed to the motor mechanics sheds.
I excused myself to take a leak behind a bush. I wasn’t scared. Okay, I was, but it was the dozen cups of tea that caused this.
Colin Roth stepped out of the bushes and faced Anna and Amy.
“Hello girls! Been expecting me?”, he asked. He pulled a gun on Anna and his tone changed completely. “Now I’ve got you, you bitch”, he said, eyeing Anna up and down. Colin’s gaze skipped between Anna and Amy for a few seconds. “What... the hell have you been up to?”
“Oh, nothing much, just killing a few vampires”, Anna replied casually.
“If I were you Mr. Roth, I’d look behind you”, Amy said quietly.
“Yeah, you think I’m stupid enough to fall for that old trick?”, Colin muttered, making an obscene gesture with his free hand.
“If I were you Mr. Roth, I’d look behind you”, said the vampire standing behind Colin.
“You don’t fool...yaah!”
Colin leapt sideways and spun his gun on the vampire.
“Who the...? What the...? Eat this you ugly son of a bitch”, Colin yelped, emptying his entire clip into the vampire at point blank range. Which barely seemed to have any effect other than minor clothing damage.
While Colin was processing the fact that bullets had no effect, Anna lunged forward and plunged a stake into the vampire. The vampire exploded into dust. Colin was still shooting, his spent gun just clicking uselessly.
Anna spun around, lifting her leg as she did so, kicking Colin in the face. He collapsed to the ground.
“Like I said”, said Anna, “We were just killing a few vampires. Oh, your gun? Useless. Stake through the heart. That works.”
“Hey, nice pussy”, Colin said.
“Oh, cat... Where?”, Amy says, looking around. After seeing no cat, she followed Colin’s gaze and it clicked. Amy rolled her eyes.
Anna reached for a stake from Amy’s backpack.
“Okay. Listen to me very carefully, for I shall say zizz onlee vonce. Sod off. Forever. Or I’ll get Amy to deal with you.”
Colin looked at Amy, who was holding a loaded crossbow aimed directly at his head.
“You’re a crazy bint. You trust her... with that?”
Anna nodded. Amy tried a menacing smile, but just appeared a little cuter than normal.
“Uh-uh. No way am I taking this crap from a babe”, Colin muttered. He pushed the crossbow away, grabbed his gun and pulled the trigger. Anna’s body tensed, expecting intense pain, followed by death. All that could be heard was a hushed ‘click-click’, and Colin swearing under his breath.
Colin threw the gun at Amy, and tried to get up. Anna put her foot on his chest and pushed him down again. Colin grabbed Anna’s shoe and twisted. As she was wearing ballet flats, the shoe pretty much came off in his hand. Anna remained standing, slightly raising her eyebrows and tilting her head, as if to emote “for real?”.
I saw the girls had somebody on the ground. I approached slowly as I didn’t want to get in the way of anything. I wasn’t quite sure why Anna hadn’t done the pointy stake thing yet. It would be like her to be questioning the vampire as to how he could even be possible.
I saw the figure push Anna’s legs and reach for Amy’s crossbow. Amy tried to pull away but the figure grabbed the weapon firmly.
A soft click, a gentle twang, and the figure lay back on the ground, drawing its knees up.
“OH MY GOD I’M SORRY!”, Amy actually shouted, proper shouty voice. “SORRY! SORRY!”
Amy just let go of the crossbow, put one hand to her heart and the other over her mouth. She started shuffling backwards, tears streaming down her face.
I looked down.
Oh. My. God.
That’s gotta hurt.
“Come sweetie, let’s go back inside. It’s not safe out here”, I said to Amy.
“I... it...”, Amy cried.
“I saw it all. Our good friend Colin got fed up of playing with Anna’s shoe, tried to grab your crossbow, and ended up shooting himself in the knob.”
“Amy, in a few minutes he’s going to be another pile of entrails. It was his decision to come back here. Let him live long enough to regret it.”
“I think he can hear you”, Anna said.
“Like I give a crap”, I replied.
Actually, I did give a crap. I know it was an accident, but being shot in the nether regions, that calls up some sort of weird primal fear. The sort of fear that makes a person wonder what “God” was thinking when he created man to be aggressive and then stuck his sensitive reproductive organs in a prime kicking location.
Oh, wait, you expected me to be upset about Colin? The guy who tried to turn my best friend’s suicide into a murder case with Yours Truly as the culprit?
Ain’t gonna happen. This is industrial strength schadenfreude with a big dose of epicaricacy.
He can burn in hell for all it matters to me. Which will happen in about two to three minutes. Less if he’s dumb enough to start screaming.
We left Colin and walked to the main building. Thankfully it was a clear walk. Nothing to stake. Nothing to run from. We slipped in the side entrance, went up the study stairs, and across the the SIBA dormitory. It was empty. A video deck was playing “An Officer And A Gentleman”. We walked across the upper landing. The last time I’d walked this way this purposefully, I was following a kid with a Minigun. I wondered how a vampire would cope with that. I mean, there’s no... whatever it is in wood that affects vampires, but it would be like sticking one in a blender. Would it be a non-dead bloody pulp, or would all the bits gloop back together? I’m not sure I wanted to know.
“Where exactly do you think you’re going?”
Oh great, the temp teacher.
“You, you, and you. Oh, it’s the two so-called Prefects, Chick and Soggy Chicklet. And the one that I hear is always in the middle of everything. Consider yourselves expelled. Right now. Go pack and get out.”
Anna looked at me, shrugged, and walked on. Giles harrumphed, grabbed her, and within a split second was lying on the floor with Anna’s foot resting firmly on his neck. Somehow I rather imagine Anna set this up and Giles fell into the trap.
“Now what’s a newbie temporary teacher like you doing trying to grope a teenage girl?”, Anna asked.
“I did no such thing.”
“I have two witnesses.”
“You have exactly one option here. Realise that you have no idea what is really going on, that you are way over your head and competence level, and that the best thing you can do is go to study eighteen and watch porn with Dillon.”
“And neglect my duties?”
Anna relaxed her foot. Giles, or maybe Mister Giles, sat up.
“Haven’t we already lost two policemen?”
“I think it’s four now.”
“And you’re still walking around?”
“As are you.”
“I know what we’re up against.” To make the point clear, she took a stake from Amy’s backpack.
Gile’s eyebrows floated above his head. “Exactly how do you plan on stopping wolves with that? Throw it and shout ‘fetch’?”
“Not wolves. Vampires.”
(Mister) Giles stood up. “You people are insane.” He turned.
“Unless you want this stake stuck in your back, you will stop.”
“Nobody is expelled, you didn’t see us.”
“I didn’t see you, but you might want to consider seeing a therapist, you lunatics.”
Without looking back, he walked away.
“That was nicely done”, I commended Anna.
“It’s easy. Take their power away from them, then clobber them over the head with the power they used to wield”, she replied, “For him the secret was to understand that his annoying officiousness was because he simply didn’t want to be blamed for anything.”
“He is letting us break curfew?”, I asked.
“Under duress with a threat of a weapon in his back”, Anna explained, “Essentially we made the decision and threatened him. So he’s cool with it, as he can point the finger at me. No blame will stick to him.”
“Are you sure?”, Amy asked.
“He’s a temp. Do you really think he even remotely cares about the three of us? He just wants a nice shiny reference for his next gig.”
Anna demonstrated the versatility of her legs by opening the door to the third form dormitory with rather more force than was necessary. Her shoes looked pretty flimsy, I wondered if she carried on like that, if they’d survive the night. Then a little voice inside my head pointed out that if we carry on like this, would we survive the night?
The boys who were supposed to be running SIBA were cowering under their duvets.
I said nothing. I just turned and walked away. What the hell? The only thing we ever backed away from was the previous headmaster’s little boy’s club, and that was for the greater good. What was the greater good of hiding in bed when a world-changing event was playing out right here and right now?
I walked down the junior stairway to the landing. The junior bathroom was to my right. The art room door was to the right of that. I kicked the door and it didn’t budge. Anna helpfully kicked the door and it fell off its hinges.
“You... loosened it for me?”, she suggested.
I sat down at an easel and flipped over to a clean piece of paper. I started doodling using various coloured crayons. Nothing in particular. Anna sat next to me and Amy sat near the door to warn us if anybody approached. Amy had a stake in one hand and the crossbow in the other. I’m surprised Giles hadn’t clocked that. Or maybe he did and that’s when he decided to stop getting in the way?
“It’s therapy. I’m annoyed”, I said, switching colours and scribbling in colours best described as mauve and golden wheat.
“I didn’t know you liked art?”, Anna said.
“I do, I just don’t like the art teacher.”
“She seems to think you have to be good at art to appreciate art. I really dig the bendy clocks, but as you can see, a blind toddler would have more talent than me.”
Anna looked at my doodle, tried to work out what it was, then gave up.
“Tell me about Princeton”, I said.
“Big? Old? Ivy league? People score 800s on their SAT categories? What should I say?”, Anna replied.
“Why?”, I asked.
“Because they liked the essay that I wrote. I don’t know how they got it, I sent it to Professor Hawking. Maybe one of his staff forwarded it?”
“What did you say?”
“I... um... how can I explain? Imagine a city. In the city are a number of blocks.”
With her accent, “blocks” sounded like “blacks”, so I replied “And Asians, and white people, and guys born on a cow farm in Ohio who think they’re Irish.”
“You said there are black people in the city.”
“No, no, no... not blacks, blocks.” The words sounded the same.
“I think she means ‘blocks’”, Amy called back.
“I do, I mean... blocks”. Anna tried a British pronunciation of the word, and failed, sounding more like she was saying “blokes”.
“Besides”, she added, “we don’t call black people black. Sometimes very few people might refer to them as melanated, but usually they’re just African-Americans. What do you call people of African descent in Britain?”
“British”, I replied flatly. Racism was just as alive here as anywhere else, a few terms back an idiot going by the name of “Rad” proved that, but there was no such thing as an African-British, or a German-British. If you were British, you were British. If we were to start labelling people by their ancestry...well, let’s start with the Windors, or should I say Saxe-Coburg-Gotha?
“Okay, well, as I was saying, in a city there are blocks. And a block is comprised of buildings. And a building it made of bricks. And those bricks are made of compressed and baked bits of gloopy dirt.”
“I’m not really following”, I said.
“Well, you see, science people want to find the master equation. One mathematical formula that explains everything, the universe.”
“Uh-hu, that was what Einstein was looking for, right?”
“Lots of people, but he is one of the more famous.”
“How does this relate to the city?”
“Because once upon a time we knew the world had stuff. Iron, bronze, gold. Then we formally discovered atoms in 1897, but I think people had suspected it for a while as one of the tenets of alchemy, that of turning base metals into gold, only really makes sense if you think of materials as being made of stuff that could be rearranged. It took until the start of the 1930s before the world had accepted electrons and protons and neutrons. Modern chemistry was born, and with it, the spectacular fun that is quantum physics.”
I nodded. I recalled Abigail explaining about valence and bonding by sharing electrons. And that was normal chemistry. Quantum physics was the one that took great delight in gleefully trashing every sensible theory mankind could come up with.
“Then in 1964 two physicists independently predicted that the elements within the atoms would themselves be made of something. In 1968 the world received a shock when the particle accelerator in Stanford showed a proton to be made of smaller objects, thus confirming the theory of four years prior. We now know five types of object that we call ‘quarks’. They are called up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom.”
“Uh, that’s six?”, I queried.
“Well spotted. Quarks seem to come in complimentary pairs. We’ve discovered the bottom but so far haven’t found the top. But it has to exist.”
I nodded again.
“Essentially my argument is this. We cannot possibly hope to make any kind of unifying theory of everything until we actually know what everything is actually made of. Think about it, if three particles are made of combinations of six different sub-atomic things, the quarks, then wouldn’t this imply that there are actually slightly different types of proton, or electron? Maybe these three particles that we thought we could see are all quite different. A neutron in a piece of cheese is a very different beast to a neutron in a chrome fender?”
I kind of liked it when Anna geeked out.
“So I made two predictions. The first prediction is that we will, some day, discover that quarks are made of something. And these sub-sub-atomic particles may well be comprised of even smaller things. This is getting back to my city analogy. And, so, to my second prediction. When we finally reach the understanding of what exactly it is that everything is made of, that is when we will finally be in a position to start making clever theories to explain the universe. But we won’t need to. Because by that time, it will be clear. For now, we just lack understanding.”
Anna sat back and smiled. I think she likes to geek out with somebody who doesn’t make fun of her.
We then got the shock of our lives, and this is a day when we just killed like a dozen vampires.
“So what she is saying”, Amy said, approaching us, “is that we are like savages meeting a car for the first time. The savages don’t know about metal, about gears, about combustion. They look at the car, they listen to its rumbling, they feel it vibrating. The answer is obvious. It’s witchcraft. And a few hundred years ago, people would have totally believed that.”
“Whoa...”, Anna said, genuinely impressed. “You were following all of that?”, she asked Amy.
“You forgot leptons”, Amy replied, leaving Anna’s mouth hanging open.
“I didn’t know you were that into science”, I said.
“Why do you think I tell Anna to store her books on my bookshelf?”, Amy asked. “It’s so I can read them.”
“How much do you understand?”, Anna asked.
“Not everything, but I think I have an idea for light.”
“How it behaves like a particle and a wave. At the same time. Which ought to be impossible. Well, about as impossible as people turning into dust.”
Nobody said anything, so Amy continued.
“It’s a doughnut.”
“Think of string theory. Well, what happens if the string is connected to itself, like a Hula Hoop? It’ll have string properties, but also properties of a particle.”
Anna didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know what the hell she was on about, but mentioning Hula Hoops made me feel hungry.
“So, um, if you don’t mind a change of subject, what did you mean earlier when you said I was taken?”, I asked.
Anna actually facepalmed herself.
“Good god! You’re not gay, there are only two girls here, it isn’t me. Do I need to draw you a diagram?”, Anna said, exasperated.
“I mean...”, she continued, “Who was it that went with you to get help when the school was under siege? Who was it that is afraid of flying but absolutely wanted to be in that little plane we all built once she knew you’d be the pilot? Who is too nervous to play piano in front of her own mother, yet composed and played numerous themes for SIBA? And exactly where the hell do you think all those Walnut Whips come from?”
I looked at Amy. Who sat perfectly upright with her hands crossed and in her lap, as if she was a still-life model.
I patted my lap and she practically flew over and sat. I put my arms around her and could feel a long sigh.
“You are so dense sometimes, you know that?”, Anna said.
“Why are we here, anyway?”, Amy asked me.
“I’m just getting over some issues”, I replied.
“Care to share?”
“Nah, it’s just... them... hiding in bed. Makes me angry. All the stuff we got up to. Do you have any idea how many times this week alone James and I commented that if we were doing SIBA we would have done it better, differently...”
“The vampires... Why does it seem like they can kill everybody but we alone can kill them?”, I asked.
“I wondered that too”, Amy said, “Well, not me killing them. Mostly her.” Amy pointed at Anna.
“I think it’s because we know”, Anna said.
“We know?”, I asked.
“Think about it. The police talk about nasty wild dogs and you find yourself face to face with a snarling humanoid beast. You don’t know what it is, what to do with it, or anything except that you are going to die.”
“Ah, but the surprise is on them as we know and we have pointy bits of wood?”, I said.
“Exactly. They don’t surprise us, we surprise them.”
“But still, you’d have thought...”, I began.
“The other thing is that they appear to have egos the size of minor celestial bodies”, Anna said, “Like that one that taunted Amy, or the one that tried making out with me. They simply think they’re invincible, that we just can’t kill them.”
“They must be pretty stupid”, I said.
“Ever looked into their eyes just before the dusting? It’s not shock or regret, it’s pure anger. Like how could we be capable of doing such a thing.”
“Well, that brings us to the obvious question, how does the dust thing work?”
“I’ll pretend you didn’t just ask me that.”
“No, seriously, I’m not even going to attempt to waste any cerebral functionality on that question. I don’t want to know, and I don’t want to be the one immortalised in textbooks as the girl that discovered how vampires become a pile of dust. I want to discover something cool.”
We stood up and Amy went to the door to collect her weapons.
“Ooh, a girl vampire. That’s new!”, Amy said.
She didn’t have time to scream as the vampire grabbed Amy and sunk its teeth into her neck.
The vampire pulled away, spitting, and exploded into dust.
“Oh my god, how...?”, Anna asked.
“That’s the power of Italian food, bitch!”, Amy said.
I looked at her weapons still on the floor by the chair she was originally sitting on.
“I had no stake. I had no weapons. It’s the garlic!”, Amy said happily.
Anna threw Amy to the floor and held a stake over her heart. “One hint of a change and I’m putting you out of your torment.”
“There’s no torment. There aren’t even any marks from where I was bitten.”
“How is that possible?”, Anna said, examining Amy’s neck, and then examining it again.
“Weirdo murderous people explode into dust, and you’re asking how this is possible?”, Amy retorted.
“Oh, shut up you! None of this makes sense.”
“Witchcraft is like Christianity.”
We looked around and saw Abigail standing by the remains of the door. She was holding a stake.
“Don’t wanna talk to you”, Anna said.
“Give her a chance”, I asked.
Anna shrugged, and helped Amy to her feet.
“Oh, and mom, people started wars over less.”
“Do you really think I have the power to turn people into toads? If I could do that, don’t you think I’d have done that to the previous headmaster? And all of his little minions?”
“So what is it then?”
“Empowerment. Christians light candles and pray to God, or to various saints if they are Catholic, uh, it’s kind of beaurocratic. We light candles and pray to Mother Earth in whatever one of the billion different guises - from Hecate to Gaia to guardians of watchtowers to whatever. Wishes may appear to be granted, or not. We will come up with elaborate explanations like how we were insincere or not pure of heart, because the truth is that no creator spirit is going to pause the entire universe to tweak things just for our benefit. Sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad things happen”, Abigail said in a rambling manner.
“So what’s the point then?”, Anna asked.
“As I said, empowerment.”
“I bet tonight, even though you were trying to ignore it, you felt better, stronger, and more capable than ever before.”
“She’s certainly exercised her legs, look at the door you’re standing on”, I said.
Abigail looked down and smiled.
“Anna, honey, whether or not you are a witch doesn’t depend upon black lace and pointy hats, or even a magic wand and the knowledge of obscure incantations. It is how you feel in your heart.”
“You... kind of fixed the file server. Dressed in black. With incantations.”
“I certainly did. Because dressing the part helps me focus my mind. I thought good things, I thought about all the times I’ve been blessed to have you, Anna, in my life. I sung ‘You’re My First, My Last, My Everything’, and then I simply switched the thing off and on a few times.”
I noticed Anna was openly blubbing.
“It’s our song”, Abigail explained, “A year after Anna was born, my husband traded me in for a younger model.” Abigail made a gesture that implied the younger model had enormous breasts. Suddenly Abigail’s feminism made a lot more sense.
“So that song kinda became our theme song. I sang it to Anna so many times, it’s practically the song of her early childhood. Well, that plus Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Diamond.”
Abigail took some paper towel and wiped Anna’s eyes. Anna sat still, it seemed like this was something that had happened a lot in the past.
“I’m not a witch because I’m crazy. I’m not a witch because I can smite bad schoolboys into boiling cauldrons...even though I might frequently wish I could. I’m a witch simply because it empowers me. It makes me a stronger person, and it is very very feminine. Witches are girls, mother earth is female, it’s what we need in this modern male-oriented world. Forget Our Father and the long list of prohibitions, half of which are pandering to his great ego. Instead embrace the world, nature, and the beauty of womanhood as the one who has inside the true magic, the ability to create a life.”
Abigail had finished, and there was silence in the room. I still had my arms around Amy, and I could feel her sobbing gently. I think Abigail’s speech might have touched a nerve. A female nerve, that is.
“I... was... wrong”, Anna said, looking down.
“But now you are on the right path”, Abigail said.
“The right path? You aren’t going to ask me the sound of one hand clapping, are you?”
Abigail laughed. “No, there won’t be any Zen Koans tonight!”
“That’s just as well”, Amy said, “I think I reached enlightenment about forty seconds ago.”
“Thank you, Amy.” Abigail actually bowed to Amy, then added, “I’m glad you kept that coin in your pocket. It’ll keep you safe.”
Amy fished in a pocket of her dress and pulled out that gold coin and stared at it. “How...?”
Abigail responded by simply smiling.
“Wait”, I said, “Did you know we were going to be attacked by vampires?”
Abigail shook her head, “You know that sickly feeling you get when something is really wrong but you can’t quite put your finger on it?”
I nodded and said, “It’s called Monday.”
“No, I’m serious. I felt that something evil was approaching. What it was, I couldn’t tell you until tonight.”
“Have you told anybody else?”, Anna asked.
“Who’d listen? I hear myself saying the word ‘vampire’ and I think I ought to go and see the bottom of every bottle in the house. Vampires, for chrissakes. Who’s going to believe a word of that?”
“Maybe if more people...”, I began.
“It’ll be in vain. There’s no way to say that without people bursting into laughter. And here we stand, in a sleepy little southern England village, which may well be the birthplace of the impending apocalypse.”
“Gee, mom, that’s encouraging.”
“I think this weekend is going to be the date of a historic battle. The thing is, if warnings are met with disbelief, incredulity, and derision... well, the battle will be lost before it has even begun.”
We looked at each other. It had never occurred to us that this might be the start of something big.
“Anyway, look, there are some rather unpleasant creatures around and I honest can’t believe everybody is happy blaming recent events on wild dogs, wolves, and other furry things that go Grrr! in the night”, Abigail said, “so if you don’t mind, you probably ought to go back to your study and just hide like everybody else. James is there. Silly fool got stuck trying to break into the cellar. He... he explained your theories of vampires which, sadly, made a lot more sense than anything else, which thankfully prepared me for when I met one on the stairway. Ugly sons-of-bitches, aren’t they? I’m going to give some others a head’s up. Starting with your mother, Amy.”
Abigail left to check on Matron, and we made it back to my study. Amy held my hand the entire way and sang “Birdhouse In Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants. It was a seriously strange song, being about a nightlight as seen from the perspective of the nightlight. But, somehow, it seemed adorably cute the way Amy performed it.
At my study, we were greeted by James.
“I tried explaining it to the rozzers”, he said.
Amy put the kettle on.
“They didn’t believe a word if it”, he continued, “In fact that chem teacher, uh, her mother, that’s about the only person that didn’t tell me I needed to up my medication.”
Anna went over to the broken window and lifted the lampshade off the lamp. She tutted, and started dusting it with her arm. “You know, James, it isn’t really surprising. We are trying to tell the world that vampires are real. If you wrote a story of this, people would call it insane. It would be a work of fiction.” She replaced the marginally less grotty lampshade and clicked her fingers. At that moment the kettle clicked off.
“How? What?”, James said.
“Oh, she’s a witch. Didn’t Abigail tell you?”, I said.
Anna looked down, put her hand to her mouth, then burst out laughing.
I collapsed onto my bed. “Problem is, nobody wants to even try to believe us and they think we are mad or crazy or delusional or...”
“And all of this was done by a group of wild dogs, wolves even”, Anna said as she sat cross-legged on the floor and stared at her shoes.
Amy switched the TV on and pressed the ‘8’ button. Nothing but static. I guess the film had finished. Since the guys who should have been running SIBA had been cowering under their duvets, there was nothing at all recorded. Nothing.
Yeah, we probably were crazy.
“Enough!”, Amy said, marching out of my study.
James, Anna, and I all looked at each other, and made to follow her. She walked down the hallway to the SIBA dormitory.
It was deserted. Vampires on the loose and no broadcast. We totally would not have done it this way.
“Turn all this stuff on”, Amy commanded.
“All what?”, James asked.
“Everything. All of it. Switch it, boot it, fire it up, whatever it needs, make it so.”
James and I went around turning on everything we could see, though it was a bit silly as we could only run with one camera at a time. But, we turned them all on anyway. Because none of us knew what was going through Amy’s mind.
“James, you are camera guy”, Amy said.
“Which?”, he replied.
“The walkie mushroom thing.”
Ah, she’s talking about the hi-band transmitter. James went and put on the backpack and said “I hope those useless flids kept the battery charged.” He poked something and shrugged, “Not great, but it’ll do.”
James hooked up the best camera we had, which wasn’t saying much, and I set up the teletext inserter to display our on-screen text as blue on black (to be subtle). I wanted to go with “SIBA - FRIGHT NIGHT LIVE” but Amy told me that it look up too much space, so it just said “SIBA” in single height blue teletext letters, at the upper right of the screen. No black background behind the letters either, it was barely visible if the camera was looking outside.
James aimed the camera at Amy. “What now, Commander in Chief? You’re live, we’re ready to go.”
Amy took a deep breath. I moved closer, to catch her when she fainted.
“Being a part of SIBA over the past few terms has been great fun. Well, except the scary bits which happened a lot. But that aside I got to meet some really lovely people.”
We nodded and murmured in general agreement.
“But what saddens me more than anything in the world, and that’s not hyperbole, is that SIBA is dying. So many times this night we have all commented in one way or another on how we would have done something, where we would have put a camera. And what did we see?”
A long pause.
“NOTHING!”, Amy shrieked. “No live broadcast. Just a film. Then actual nothing. Nothing at all.”
A long pause, and I’ll admit, I’m wondering where this was going.
“That changes. Right bloody now it does. For this, tonight, will be SIBA’s final broadcast. The greatness that was the best pirate telly station in the world is not going to die with barely a whimper. We are going to go out in an epic blaze of glory. Because we are not crazy. Vampires exist. They are real. And we are going to prove it to the world. Yes, I said vampire.”
“Um, Amy, sweetie”, I said, “We?”
“Yes! You and him and her and AMY!”
James swung around to get me in shot. I’m sure everybody walking will have seen my eyebrows shoot higher than Danger Mouse’s Penfold.
“Yes. because Amy is sick of being scared. Amy is sick of never knowing how things turn out because she doesn’t stay conscious long enough. Amy is sick of being the only girl she knows who carries spare panties in her satchel. Amy is sick of being the sort of girl that other girls would say makes girls seem shameful. And Amy is really absolutely fucking sick of being the butt of the same horrible jokes over and over and over.”
“Did... Amy just drop an F-bomb?”, Anna asked, her face showing more surprise than when she realised that vampires were a thing.
“So Amy is going to f...”, Amy began.
“ENOUGH!”, I shouted to drown her out. “Enough with the swearing. We aren’t aiming for an adult-only rating, you know. You see that TV? The one you’re on?”
“It’s channel three, not channel eight”, I said.
All of the televisions at school were set up so the eighth button would be SIBA. The third button? That was TVS. We were on local telly. Maybe national. I guess that outside broadcast van wasn’t empty, the guys inside were just hiding, and probably bored stiff watching a film and then dead air while vampires raged outside.
“Masturbation”, she replied.
“Ex-cuse me!?”, James blurted out, stifling a giggle.
“Well, swear words are all about sex or body fluids, right?”, Amy reasoned, “So I will keep it simple and I will keep it cleaner.”
Another long pause, this one long enough to start to get uncomfortable. Then Amy smiled. I think she realised about the same time I did. We were on telly. Not us, but proper telly. We could tell people. Warn them. Something.
Amy walked right up to the camera. “Vampires are real. Yes, vampires, those creatures you all know from low budget horror movies exist. This is a world with vampires. They are real. They are a thing. This is your world now.”
Another meaningful pause.
“So, we shall do what we always do on a Friday night. We will go and save the world or something. It will be carnage, an absolute dustbath. And you are coming along for the ride. You’ll get to see it all. And to the vampires who may be watching - Amy is coming and she will punch your farting teeth right down your snotty throat, you ugly cunniligus stains.”
“Dude!”, James choked, “The hell did she just say!?”
I watched as third-person-Amy picked up a wooden chair, smashed it on the side of a bunk, and retrieved a pretty decent looking stake from the pieces.
“Alright then...”, Amy shouted, and was out the door.
We looked at each other for a brief stunned moment, then we all grabbed something wooden and pointy and headed out the door. Amy pulled some crazy ballet stuff on the stairs to get down them in practically no time at all. As a group we passed the secretary’s office, and headed to the large solid wood side door. Amy didn’t pause, she threw the bolt back, grabbed the ring handle, and yanked the door open.
We piled out of the door nearly falling over each other.
Then we saw them.
On the oval.
In the darkness it was hard to count how many there were. A lot.
I glanced up at the windows of the dormitory and saw several police people shocked into silence. A part of me wanted to yell “Told you so!” but I didn’t get a chance.
Because it was Amy who yelled. The Amy who was incapable of being heard clearly at the back of a classroom. She raised her voice to a level I didn’t know existed, and shouted “COME GET SOME!”. And then she ran, brandishing her wooden stake.
Anna and I grabbed our pieces of wood, and we did the most foolhardy thing imaginable. We ran too. Right after Amy. And I noticed that James was holding the camera in one hand and a stake in the other. He wasn’t going to miss any of the action either.
As a group, we ran. Stakes held high. Yes, this. This moment. This was how SIBA should bow out. This was our perfect denouement.
To follow. Don't ruin the moment...
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