Flowers’ plan appeared to be moving like clockwork.
However, whilst the assembled school was being moved towards the basement, Chris, Michael and Mr Hunter were moving along the underground passages. Their intention was clear; they would somehow smuggle out the captives. The one part of the plan that did not bear up to scrutiny was the part where they created enough distraction to ensure everyone could be directed into the passageways.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Oh and by the way, my name is Graham, even for you lads. Seems that the time for sirs and misters may just have come to an end.”
They moved on in silence with Chris seriously considering how he was going to ensure that he called his teacher by his first name. Most people knew the first names of teachers whilst others were astounded that they had been given first names in the first place. However, teachers were always Mr or Sir if you didn’t want to get on the bad side of them.
“Just trying it for size. It’ll take a while though.”
Michael smiled to himself relishing this moment of sanity in this sea of madness.
Above them a darkness was forming and this time Flowers smiled to himself at that which he had helped to come into being.
The last group had been herded into the basement area and, at last, it was within sight. This would be a memory all would savour. It would be a note in history that marked the turn of the world. He would be the usher for The Piper and now he felt his presence more than ever before. He was becoming part of the world. He was physics and matter and he was more than reason.
Those flies in the ointment had caused him distractions. They had caused him pain. Hadn’t he lost his best follower to them? When he found their hiding place, he would surely exact a revenge that was fitting. The mother, their strength, would suffer long and hard for their treason.
Flowers turned from the future to face one of his soldiers.
“Sir, we have found something that you ought to know about.”
“What? What is it?”
“It’s Teally sir, we found him behind the school. He’s been attacked and tied up.”
Oh, how it itched. Yet again, they stood between him and fate.
“Bring him in. I want to know everything.”
And as the boy was dragged in, Flowers, always the pragmatist saw an opportunity to instil that most valuable of emotions: fear.
“Put him there on the steps. Be careful not to harm him any more than is possible.”
He knelt at the side of his lowly follower and held his head. The boy’s vision was impaired. He had obviously taken a blow to the head. Flowers was concerned and caring.
“Who did this to you?”
Through pain and fuzzy consciousness, the boy attempted to explain. He was sweating and did not know why. Being so close to Flowers these days was like being next to an open fire. The heat from exchanges with him invaded any space around. There was an energy coming from him that was inexplicable, but so was Flowers.
“Tell me how this happened.”
“It was one of those Andrews. I caught him sneaking around and I was going to bring him to you. I know that you want them.”
“Ah good. It sounds as if you were doing the right thing there. I have but just one little problem.”
“You had a gun. Am I right?”
“And now, if I’m not mistaken, you have no gun. How has that come to pass?”
“Somebody must have hit me from behind. I didn’t hear anything. All I remember is waking up and being brought here.”
“Oh. That is rather tragic.”
Flowers turned and motioned for one of his minions to come forward.
“Are all the groups in the basement?”
“Yes, sir. The last ones just went in.”
“Turn off the lights and lock the doors. Leave a man on guard. There is something I’d like everyone to see.”
Looking down at the boy, now shaking in anticipation of what was to come, Flowers was almost apologetic.
“You see, failure is not something that we can put up with. What you have done, and I agree that it was out of your control, is to let me down. History is full of such events. One man, one boy or one woman, it doesn’t matter. If they are in that position of trust and they make the wrong decision, then everyone suffers. Rather sad would you not agree?”
“No calm yourself. We have made our choices through our actions and now I will reward you with the chance to redeem yourself.”
“Sir, thank you. Thank you sir. How can I ever repay you?”
“Just remember to put on a good show.”
The boy was confused, but nodded all the same.
“Can we lift our stricken comrade to the top of the stage?”
Two boys instantly shot forward and lifted Teally to the dais. Flowers turned to the newly formed group.
“Is everyone here?”
“All but Imraz. We left on guard, sir.”
“Excellent. Now as you may be aware, we have a family of parasites that are getting in the way of things. This boy here had one of them this morning and that could have been the key to finding them all. They are a family unit which means that they care about each other more than they care about anything else. I know it’s lame, but hey, that’s why we’re taking over.”
Again, the dramatic pause.
“Anyway, can you imagine the opportunity of having one of them at gunpoint ready to be delivered to me? Amazing luck? Unfortunately, he was not so careful and got himself knocked unconscious. We found him a little while ago and here he is so full of remorse.” He swept a hand to where the boy lay.
“As with any of our fallen comrades, you can always rely upon me to give you a second chance. And here is yours, Teally, or whatever you were called.”
Like a magician brandishing a wand, Flowers made an extravagant movement of his hand. Pure pantomime rather than theatre. There ought to have been a drum roll to accompany it, to build up the tension, but there was a sound far more ominous.
From deep below there came a distant patter. Growing in intensity by the second, it sounded as if this was a far off tube train speeding toward them. The patter became a rumble and the rumble became a stampede.
His toy soldiers filled with anxiety at the approach. Many were looking from one to another and some were even edging backwards. Flowers was smiling. When the noise became too much, the trap door below the stage exploded upwards and out shot a rage of black fur, biting, snarling and hissing. In seconds, the entire area was covered in a black mass of hunger.
“These my boys are your new comrades. They are loyal and obedient. They do not fail me as they are allergic to failure. Just watch while they make failure into success. He who has not done what I wished will now enable us all to learn a valuable lesson. Let the lesson begin.”
Without more being said, without any explanation or order, the rats leapt forward onto their victim who did not even have the chance to throw out a scream. They ripped and devoured, biting each other for the juiciest pieces and glorying in the time of their rebirth.
The band of boys watched with a mixture of fear and enjoyment. Teally, who had so recently been part of their crew, was now no more than a set of bones being gnawed by these marvellous creatures.
Some looked upon his remains and felt envy.