If Laura Andrews was going to make that final leap into madness, it would be now.
She sat holding the note studying its contents.
“Who the hell is Dr William Melrose?” she asked Nick directly.
“It’s a long story.”
“Isn’t everything these days? You may as well get it started because we haven’t got long,” she shot back.
“Dr William Melrose was a doctor at Fairfields…”
“Was? Did he get fired for not hitting his target for lobotomising children or something?”
“No, he died.”
Laura let out an exasperated laugh.
“Died?” she repeated. “So you’re telling me that my son, my youngest son is now with some dead doctor at some hospital somewhere? Why does this not surprise me?”
“I think it’s like everything else, Mum,” Chris put in. “I never believed in any of this, even when the bad things started to happen. I thought it was just a load of rubbish.”
He looked at his brother. “I accepted you, Michael. Well, you’ve always been a little strange from the start, but everything else, all this stuff about you, Nick? There’s only so much you can take. But I saw Dad and that changed it all for me. There’s nothing much more that will surprise me. If only he hadn’t died.”
There was silence in the room.
“I too have been seeing loved ones who are now gone.”
Mr Hunter, who had been sitting quietly summing up the situation, now had the eyes of everyone upon him.
“Well seeing is probably not the right word. I’ve been getting phone calls from my son, my dead son.”
He hesitated as this confession was an admission of guilt. I too am a lunatic!
“Until very recently, I would have described myself as a very sane man. Okay, over three decades in teaching doesn’t always go with that, but sane in comparison with other people; people who were sound of mind. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“What does your son say?” asked Laura quietly.
Graham turned his full attention to the mother who was caught in the eye of this maelstrom.
“He has been warning me about the Piper. He has been warning me from beyond the grave.”
“Does that mean that…” she swallowed hard, but fixed upon Nick once more, “Does that mean that Peter is dead?”
“No. He is alive somewhere. I believe that this note tells us that he is in the care of this doctor.”
“The dead doctor?”
“Yes, but such things don’t matter so much anymore. We are living in times foretold in Revelations. The dead will come back on both sides of the divide. They will stand for the Piper or with ourselves. Peter is safe for the time being. If we don’t act quickly though, that time being will be time gone.”
“What can we do?” Laura asked.
“We can get to them when and where they least expect it. Tomorrow at the school,” answered the teacher.
“It already is tomorrow,” Michael said, looking at his watch for confirmation.
“In that case, you should all try to get some sleep,” added Nick. “As I have a feeling that we’ll need all our energies to deal with whatever will be thrown at us. Just a few hours and I’ll stand sentinel.”
Nobody took too much convincing of the logic behind this as suddenly the realisation of their efforts to date settled upon them and reaffirmed their weariness. All, apart from Nick, were soon away into separate sleeps that were mercifully not blighted by what had gone before.
The sentinel stood his guard.
For once, sleep was kind.
At 3.45 am, the sentinel carefully roused his companions. Without speaking, each woke to the understanding that today would be as no other they had ever experienced.
Michael was already making tea by the time the others had pulled themselves from the comfort of their last few short hours. Chris woke to a painful throbbing in his right arm and remembered that it was broken. For all of that, he had slept without pain. Laura had spent the night in ‘her garden’ and could still feel the last of the sun’s rays upon her skin. She saw Chris wince a little as he tried to elevate himself to a seating position and was stung by guilt.
“Christopher, are you all right?”
“Just hurts a bit, but not much.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Mum, of course you didn’t mean to. Just an accident. It’s nothing.”
When Michael returned with the mugs of steaming tea, everybody was up and ready to plan for what they must do.
Their plan was simple: find out what Flowers had planned and stop it.
It was decided that Mr Hunter and Michael should be the ones to go into the school. Chris, with his recent dealings with the Piper, could well be on their radar. It would be too dangerous for him to be seen. Michael, on the other hand, had evaded them before and he believed that he could do so again. He and Mr Hunter would be responsible for reconnoitring the area and feeding back any possible signs of what the others had planned. They knew that the Piper would have devised something spectacular, but they did not yet know the full extent of the drama that awaited them.
Laura, Chris and Nick would stay at the house for what was left of the night and would then make their way to the school. “Just in case you run into trouble,” Laura said.
Mr Hunter (“I think you ought to start calling me Graham now”) had said that he knew ways in and out of the school that nobody else was possibly aware of. Laura had blessed the venture without revealing the true extent of her maternal reluctance. There was something more at stake than just her own family’s well being.
“Why Mike?” she had asked almost as an afterthought.
Nick replied for him, “He is the one the Piper fears the most and so he should.”
“But won’t that put him in more danger?”
“Yes, but if Michael doesn’t act now, the Piper will seek him out. Like me, he is a threat that needs to be disposed of.”
Laura rose and went towards her eldest son. She placed her arms around him and embraced him tightly. Then she held his face between the palms of her hands.
“Whatever I said back then, I did not mean.”
Tears were beginning to make their passages down her cheeks.
“I love you. I love you with all my heart and I don’t know how I will live if something were to happen to another of my sons.”
“Mum, there’s nothing that I can say that will help you, but I do believe that someday this will be over and we’ll be together again. We’ll find Pete. I love you too. I even love that useless brother over there.”
He nodded towards Christopher and got a nod of acceptance in return.
“Take care of my son, Mr Hunter.”
“It’s Graham to you, dear lady.”
“Take care of my son please, Graham.”
“I will, Mrs Andrews. I promise.”
“Thank you. It’s Laura.”
“I will ensure that I return your son in Grade A condition.”
“A Star, if you please.”
“A Star it will be.”
Michael and his history teacher left the relative security of the Andrews family, setting off into a night that would form the frontier of their world’s remaining sanity.
Beyond that, only monsters roamed.