Posted by: Chris Wright | August 8, 2008

The Happiest Days…

Mr. Gideon Gambit Gore leaned forward, conspiratorially. His long fingers steepled, the shaven dome, the tweeds, the ruddy windblasted cheekbones, still the schoolmaster, the unflinching disciplinarian.

“You see, Margaux, Peregrine was an unusual child – never seen anything quite like it, he responded badly to school life, never really embraced the opportunity…seemd to want to fight us…frightful rubbish of course for one so young..there was one particular incident I remember….”

It is 1934. Peregrine Percival Oatenshaw, aged seven, creeps as quietly as possible along the rubble strewn surface, taking care not to place a foot between the beams. Shafts of sunshine capture motes of dust in mid air, cartwheeling madly away from his footfall. The distant sound of the other children playing in the grounds floats faintly through the gaps in the roof.

He pauses to look at an old newspaper, long discarded, a photograph of a bearded gentleman, posing with cricket bat and pads, fragile and faded, the yellowing paper disintegrating in his hands. Pressing on, he comes to the door. He stands, intently listening, a distant creak, as if of a floorboard. The boy freezes then silently creeps into the shadow of the darkened stairwell, down a few steps and still, quiet. Nothing.

Through the door, high above the school grounds; Gore  barking orders floating up to the gothic ramparts. the boy is free, high up in the sky he scampers across the roofs, arms spread like an aeroplane. Now crouching he spies from above, the little head bobbing above the ramparts. The break bell chimes.

Inside the attic, a footfall, unmistakeable, announces the presence of the intruder, the boy’s eyes widen in fear, he is sure the heartbeat pounding in his ears will give him away. A long shadow cast across the attic blots out the light, then moves, across the dusty floor., pausing only yards from where he is concealed. Moving now, back to where he had come from.

The boy waits for thirty minutes or more, straining to hear anything other than the chatter of his distant friends. Nothing, still he waits, he has no sense of time…

Creeping back across that attic floor, an impossible distance with no hiding place, one step at a time, step, pause, listen; past the newspaper, at last, the darkness of the stairs in reach. Past the large footprints, the small ones already indistinct. The boy stops, motionless, listening. Silence.

Down the darkened steps, one at a time, step, pause, listen. The bottom of the stairs and only one door stands between the boy and the rough and tumble of school. Trembling hands on the iron door knob, turning slowly a millimetre at a time, opening, ajar, making himself thin, he is invisible, wafer thin. Only the curtain now. Willing himself to calm down, one quick step and he would be back in the school, back with his friends, filing into class.

The curtain explodes, rending the air. Exposed, Peregrine blinks in the unbearable light. A hand reaches in and grabbing him roughly by the hair, pulls him into plain view. Gore glaring, shaven skull and thin lips drawn tight across stained and yellowed teeth.  The shocked faces of the friends freeze, Finger and bony thumb, gripping the child by the ear as he is dragged wincing to the headmaster’s study.

Waiting outside the green baize door for the headmaster. Minutes pass, the school subsides once more into silence. The boy waits, anxiously, his heart beating, ears straining. A distant door slams, the sound of voices. Presently the creak of a floorboard announces the approach of the headmaster, heavy tread across the gallery, the smell of cigars and sweat.

“Wait here Oatenshaw.”

Minutes pass, no sound from within, the boy knows about this moment. He prays to some personal deity.

The punishment is swift and brutal, the cane swishes through the air, each stroke overloading his senses, the pain flashing like lightning. the boy does not cry. He will not cry.

Gideon Gore sits back, finishes his drink. “Margaux, it’s been a pleasure, so sorry to hear about Peregrine’s troubles, still Ad astra per aspera’ what!” Flexing his knuckles, he stands, knees cracking like whips, straightens, turns, positions his hat carefully upon his gleaming dome. A slight inclination of the head and he is gone.

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Responses

  1. Great tension in this entry! I love your descriptions, especially “Shafts of sunshine capture motes of dust in mid air, cartwheeling madly away from his footfall.”

  2. Thanks Sarah – much appreciated!


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