Not since his wife had left him had anyone outside of the staffroom called him Graham. And that too was changing as the older faces floated away into early retirement or premature death.
Time flew. Time raced by and it was all he could do to hang onto the tails of its dark coat.
He thought that he had seen everything. He thought that there was nothing out there that could surprise him ever again. The world was a revolving wheel, a Japanese quick-service restaurant that brought the dishes round again and again. As they were sampled, they were renewed. It was a banquet on a wheel. Customers came and customers went. Some tried new foods on a daily basis whilst others stuck to what they knew. Either way, it was a method of presenting people with the illusion of an ever changing, and infinitely diverse menu. Graham had tasted much. He knew that there was much more that he had not sampled, but understood that the same old faire came around again and again. Nothing new.
But now there was something different. Things had changed, but he couldn’t put his finger on what, or how. The core of his soul shivered with awareness. Somehow this small part of the universe was undergoing a metamorphosis; and it was starting with the kids.
Much had happened since the first day of term. Bayliss was starting his pogrom against the older teachers. He was using observations and humiliations to bring the stubborn to their knees. People were greyer nowadays. In fact, the whole staffroom was grey. If this was life, then he wondered what the other state looked like.
The school was growing greyer as well. It had always looked a little too much like a concentration camp with its functional design, its high fences and its concrete footpaths. The school now ran a laughably underused recycling programme whereas in the old days the caretaker would burn everything that could possibly be burnt. On particularly enthusiastic days, the sky around the school and is neighbouring areas hung heavy with many different flavours of smoke. These days the burnings were gone, but the chimney remained, standing tall and unrepentant next to the staff carpark.
“That could be our commandant’s next initiative,” somebody had whispered after one of the more odious public floggings of poor practice in the classroom.
Things started like that, the old History teacher thought. They started as a joke, a prophesy for a future that would never come true, but the joke became jaded as the events of the real world overtook it. And nobody dared to repeat any of its gallows’ contents in the hearing of others. Now the staffroom was ceasing its groaning; it was halting anything that could be used against it at a sooner or later date.
But it wasn’t just the headteacher and his senior henchman team. There was something happening with the students.
Graham had grown accustomed to the disruption and occasional outbursts of violence. It was part of the job. His skin must have become a little thicker over the years or it may have been that he had just grown less aware of what happened around him. Since his son had died, he had become a little less aware of many things; including his intake of alcohol for a good few months. Those were the months after the funeral and then the added grief of his wife’s expected departure. He had nobody close enough to care; not even a pet. His drinking adventure ended after a three-day blackout that was enough to frighten him into relative sobriety. Now, he found himself wanting something to quench the anxiety that had become too puzzling to explain. The school was too quiet.
He was off the drink (more or less), off the drugs (doctor’s mediation), off in a world of his own when he got home at night. So, why did he feel so very threatened by a world that appeared to be calmer than it had been for many years?
The arrival of the two Andrews’ boys had seemed a blessing, although the circumstances that brought them to St. Agnes were not blessings at all. A dead father in a car crash with alcohol in him. An inexplicable fall from grace and relative privilege. Then, landing here; the far side of the moon.
As if in some crudely orchestrating hand, Liam Flowers had landed. And that was more disturbing. Although only an occasional visitor, there was no doubt about his influence on the school. It was as if it had been waiting for him; the dark Maggi to blow in from the sands with gifts for a new day.
After the first day with the eldest of the Andrews boys, it all went quiet.
Graham Hunter’s ancient hackles were beginning to rise, but he couldn’t see the threat.