by Callum Norman
Shortly after I’d fallen to sleep, I dreamt that somebody opened my bedroom door, and in doing so it creaked loudly; it sounded like a dying cat.
As Marius put his long, horse-like face around the door, I processed his sleek hair, his beady eyes and his long nose. The floorboards creaked loudly as Marius hauled his huge frame across them. There was something unnatural, almost mechanical about the way that he moved, as though he were not quite human. From a corner of my room, he glared down at me for what felt like a long time.
“What happened today?” Marius finally asked in his booming voice.
“Not that much happened, really,” I lied.
“Did you see Daniel?”
“I saw him in my first period, in music. He didn’t say anything to me.”
I saw the real ‘Marius’, a person whose name I didn’t actually know, on my street almost every day. At six p.m. every evening, I would see him walking down my street, presumably in order to access the alleyway at the end of my road, since he only ever went in one direction. Whenever I saw him, I wondered what he would think if he knew how frequently his form visited me in the night.
“He did say something to you, didn’t he?”
I hesitated. I chastised myself for lying; then I chastised myself for making it obvious that I was lying. Marius spoke before I found anything to say:
“I know what happened.”
Even in a winter coat, the cold seeped into my bones as I walked to school that morning. I was also wearing the green scarf that my grandmother had given me the preceding Christmas, shortly before she passed away. When I got near to the bike shed, I couldn’t stop myself from trembling, because that was where Daniel and his gang congregated in the morning like hornets swarming around their nest. As I passed Daniel’s gang, I fixed my attention on the ground, but I looked up at them a couple of times. The fact that Daniel wasn’t there did not mean that I was safe.
“Nice scarf, Grandad!”
It was Stefan. His voice cut through the chatter of the people around him, causing most members of the gang to turn their attention to either Stefan or me. Stefan smirked at me with his enormous mouth.
Then one girl, Lauren, weighed in:
“My grandma actually has a scarf just like that one. I’m not even joking,” she laughed, though her eyes cut through me disdainfully.
I hurried away from that gang as fast as I could. As I retreated, something struck my backpack. Then a stone exploded a few feet away from me, sending a small cloud of chalk dust into the air. I hoped that a teacher would catch the guilty perpetrators and put them to the sword, but there never seemed to be any teachers around in the morning. I decided that it would be best not to wear my green scarf in school anymore. In fact, as soon as I was out of sight of the gang, I unravelled the scarf from my neck then I put it in my backpack. I think that my mother would have been upset if she knew that I wasn’t wearing it, but I was fighting a losing battle no matter what I did.
Just as I’d zipped up my backpack, my friend Adam appeared from around a corner. I walked to school with Adam most days, but that day he had been dropped off by his father. Adam breathed a sigh of relief when he realised that he had only run into me. Fear enveloped Adam when, a few seconds later, a few children passed us by, towering over us as though they were from a different species. Perhaps Adam and I were the ones from a different species: we were smaller than everybody else.
Our form teacher, Mr. Chambers, didn’t mind Adam and me sitting in his classroom before form time began. On this particular day, Mr. Chambers wasn’t in his classroom when Adam and I went into it. Adam told me about a new video game that he had recently started playing. In the game, the player character was a mercenary dragon slayer who got offers from wealthy patrons who required someone to rid their land of a dragon. Just as Adam was telling me how fantastic the game was, and how far he had progressed in it, Daniel stormed by the window in a bright red hoodie. I wondered who I’d have to pay to get rid of that dragon.
Straight after I’d walked into my music classroom, my eyes darted around in search of Mrs. Moore: she was nowhere in sight. I’d only taken a few steps into the classroom when somebody came up behind me and twisted my arm behind my back. I turned to see the giant figure of Joe leering down at me with his huge forehead that made him look like Frankenstein’s monster. Then Daniel appeared from somewhere, took my other arm, and led me away. At one point, Daniel turned back to me; I could see excitement in his soulless little eyes. I didn’t even bother to struggle against Daniel or Joe. There was no point.
“It’s time for your detention, little man,” Daniel said, taking obvious pleasure from every word that he spoke.
As I was escorted across the classroom, I turned to see what other people made of this ritual, which took place every time Mrs. Moore wasn’t in the classroom as soon as her class arrived. Most of the class continued to talk in their little groups. There were a few people who laughed and jeered at me as I was led away with little hope of escaping. There were some people who watched me sympathetically, but they didn’t speak out against what was happening.
“He’s been caught smoking in the staff toilets,” Daniel said to Chloe as we passed her; she in turn looked up at Daniel admiringly.
I was taken to a large cupboard that was used to store pupils’ musical instruments. I was violently launched into that room; I fell on the harsh, wiry carpet. With a deep groan, I pulled myself up. I began to survey the vast array of musical instruments, but then the light went out: the light switch was on the outside of the room. I tried to open the door, but somebody must have been holding the door handle tightly from the other side.
In that darkness, it didn’t take long for my mind to wander. I saw Marius lighting a match, then asking me what had happened; having found out, Marius determined to burn every single violin as retribution for Mrs. Moore’s incompetence.
“I can’t leave you alone for five minutes!” Mrs. Moore eventually yelled.
It had been more than five minutes.
When six p.m. came, I finally understood why Marius had been there for me all that time. I didn’t even speak to him. I just followed him. Occasionally, he would turn his pale, gaunt face in all directions, as though he were looking for somebody or something. He would sometimes stop to sniff the air like a hunting dog.
We eventually came to a long street of terraced houses that was unfamiliar to me. A large old man tottered down it. When the old man saw that Marius was approaching, he nervously moved to one side of the pavement. Instead of walking past him, Marius suddenly turned on the old man and grabbed him forcefully by the ears. With sheer terror in his pale eyes, the old man quivered as he looked up at Marius.
“Where is he?” Marius demanded of the old man.
“He lives in there,” the old man cried, pointing with a shaking finger to a house not far from where we stood.
“If you’re wrong, I’ll come back for you,” Marius growled.
The old man nodded pathetically.
When Marius got near to the house that the old man had pointed out, its door was flung open and Daniel bolted from the house, jumped over the garden wall, then ran down the road like a frightened deer desperately running for its life. Daniel suddenly looked like a child in a world full of real monsters. Marius soon got near to Daniel, at which point Daniel swung a few punches at Marius, but they fell on Marius as harmlessly as water droplets would have. Then, with fists as deadly as maces, Marius beat Daniel to the ground with brutal efficiency; then he continued to beat Daniel, blow after blow, until Daniel became nothing but a blood-soaked mess on the side of the road.
As I stroked my neighbour’s tabby cat, who was called Ernessa, Adam suddenly came into full view. He was hurrying along as though we were late, though we definitely were not. His face was bright red. He was dripping with sweat. It was very unusual to see Adam so animated. When he got close to my house, I picked up my rucksack, ready to leave. I hadn’t even managed to say hello to Adam before he started to talk excitedly.
In the village that Adam lived in, there also lived a student in the year above us, called Dominic, who delivered papers around the village every morning. Sometimes, when Dominic took a paper to Adam’s house, Adam’s mother would invite Dominic in for a drink. On the morning in question, Dominic accepted an invitation into Adam’s house, mainly in order to relay some news: Daniel had been hit by a car; then the driver of the car had driven away, leaving Daniel in a very bad way. The police hadn’t yet found the driver. As Adam said all this to me, I stood, transfixed, with the uncanny sense that I already knew that something horrible had happened to Daniel the night before.
There was to be a special assembly that morning. When we got to the hall, Mr. Ellis, the headteacher, was standing behind a lectern. Two police officers were standing either side of him. As students poured into the hall, nearly all of them gawked up at the officers. When all of the students were finally sat down, Mr. Ellis confirmed the worst: there had been an accident near to the school the preceding evening which had left Daniel in intensive care. Mr. Ellis announced, “The police officers just need to talk to anybody who saw what happened last night. There’s nothing for any of you to worry about. You’re not in any trouble whatsoever. Mr. Williams will be there in the interviews with you. We just need to establish exactly what happened last night.”
Soon after, Mr. Ellis announced that, if he read your name out, you had to follow Mr. Hodges to Mr. Williams’ classroom. Mr. Ellis proceeded to read out a list of names.
My whole body vibrated as I waited to hear the sound of my own names.
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