Michael stood against the wall of the corridor as if awaiting a firing squad.
He was conspicuous in his adherence to the school uniform and it took no time before the less well adhered spotted him as a new boy. He tried to stand the way he had seen Chris doing so, eyes vaguely focused somewhere in the middle distance, never making true eye-contact with anyone else yet never lowering them to the ground as if in submission. Chris was an expert in such social necessities yet his older brother was still just learning.
Small groups of kids were pulling together in protective knots. By doing this, they were less visible; not prey. Michael was conscious of a number of inquisitorial glances that didn’t really appear amount to anything of significance. He knew he was being sized up, that his number was being taken and that a few may even be calculating their chances of an taking a few steps up the pecking order. New kids were always the easiest targets as they had no mates to back them up. Michael noticed that he was the only loner. He tried chewing his gum a little more, pushing one foot against the wall, looking mean. It was an act that never carried much conviction.
“Chew this,” his brother had said, “It’ll make you look a bit more normal and don’t forget to loosen your tie. This is Shagness not Eton.” Shagness was the school sign of St. Agness that had undergone some creative rewriting.
Michael had listened and was doing moderately well until he spied one of the lads from the gang he had seen at the school during the holidays. He was coming down the corridor with his entourage all dressed in their version of what a school uniform should not look like. Michael did more of the middle distance thing hoping that he would not be seen. He was.
“It’s one of Hunter’s little rent boys, isn’t it?”
The corridor was immediately quietened in anticipation. Michael had not realised how news of the summer incident could travel with such speed. The conversations had stopped and attention had moved to the major protagonists. Michael had become a player on their stage and this dawning realisation forced him to abandon the middle distance for the here and now. Things were happening in his reptilian brain, the fight or flight responses were battling for control over his next move. The next move that would determine the chances of his survival in the coming weeks.
Not for the first time, he wished that Chris was with him. His younger brother always knew what to do in these situations. Okay, so often he would end up in some sort of dispute, conflict or outright fight, but he knew what to do. If Chris fought hard, Michael thought hard. The gang was closing in and around them was forming a circle of avid fans. There was going to be some blood spilt and they wanted to see it. Everybody from the youngest to the eldest, regardless of size or sex, wanted to see this. As first days went, this was a most acceptable beginning.
Michael thought hard, he thought harder and harder. When he put his mind to a problem, things happened.
There was a baying crowd around him and four imminent assailants were beginning to make their moves. They were without mercy and he knew that. Their eyes showed the delight of the torturer and the crowd was urging them on in a fashion that reminded Michael of scenes from Gladiator. Unfortunately, this contest was not going to last for very long. Another Christian for the lions.
Michael surveyed the area. Behind him was a locked door, to his left and right were walls of bloodthirsty spectators whilst in front was his immediate threat. He was isolated, cut off from any means of assistance, and out of luck. Only a fire would shift this pack.
Only a fire… and that was it.
His eyes were led to the ceiling and were greeted with what he had hoped to find; a sprinkler system. He thought about a fire, thought about the flames licking the bottom of the bulb, thought about it reaching its critical point and thought about it raining down upon his persecutors.
Sometimes things happened when Michael thought hard and Michael was thinking harder now than he had done for quite some time.