There was nobody there to see them as they entered the school.
Laura and Nick were aware of the gathering in the hall and chose to detour it. On the floor before them was a trail made by dozens of muddy feet. The trail led away from the assembly hall and towards a flight of stairs that ran below ground level. An unspoken concern passed between them. Both tiptoed their way forward, taking time to check each step before moving on.
The lack of light meant the near darkness waited for them. Nick led the way, but it was Laura who spotted the door. She nodded towards Nick and they moved towards it. What they saw when they opened the door would stay with them all forever.
“Oh my God! Michael are you all right?” his mother uttered.
Michael was on the floor of the storeroom embracing the still body of the boy who had followed The Piper. He was rocking slightly as if he were sending a baby to sleep with a lullaby. The other boy’s neck was at an angle to the rest of his body. They need not look any further to determine that he was dead.
“Michael,” she said again, “what happened? Where are the rest? Michael.”
“Mum, I killed him. I killed him and now he’s no more. I knew him from school. He was in my class. He was called Webbo or something and I didn’t know that he was in Podrall’s gang. He had a gun. I tried to stop him.”
“What’s happened to the others, Michael?” asked Nick quietly.
Michael looked up at Nick with eyes that suggested they saw what future now awaited them.
“They escaped. They’re gone.”
“And we must go. It’s not your fault what happened here. Come, let’s go.”
Nick helped Michael to his feet, carefully taking the weapon from him.
“We have to move fast. Is there another way out of here?”
Michael thought for a moment and remembered the old elevator that he had seen at some point in time, but now could not place. Opposite the basement door was a small hatch no more than two feet square. It was nothing more than a dumbwaiter and hadn’t been used in decades. It was hidden by an ancient notice board on which was placed a staff rota for September 1969. Michael removed it and opened the hatch to reveal only a platform connected to two steel cords.
“Now get inside,” Nick urged.
Michael pushed his mother up and in until she was able to stand on the platform whilst holding onto one of the cords. After that, Michael levered himself up and stood next to her. He noticed the lack of space.
“Now, I’m going to close the hatch and put the board back up. All you have to do is to pull on that cord there and that will take you to the next level. Be careful and listen before you get out.”
“But Nick,” begged Laura, “what about you?”
“They don’t see me remember,” he responded as he closed the door.
In the darkness, the two pulled themselves slowly upwards.
Nick ran back into the basement and searched the dead boy for the keys.
If this was going to work, he needed to make sure the outside door was locked. He had seen the elaborate collection of incendiaries and knew what he must do. He grabbed the keys and ran for the door. Above the door was a homemade timer device that would have been used to send panic into the hearts of their intended victims. They would have been expected to watch this countdown, one thta ended with their lives. Someone, somewhere, had once had the knowledge that Nick was now drawing upon. He examined the tubes and wires and picked the one that would make the circuit break and cause the fuse to spark. This was theatre meant to entertain and instruct, but it would go off now without the intended audience ready to watch.
Once done, he locked the door and made his way along the corridor. He estimated that he had less than five minutes to exit the building and as he was climbing the stairs he heard the sounds that indicated that the Piper’s clan were returning. He stood to one side and moved beneath the stairwell as the feet descended.
He was invisible to them.
He was almost totally undetectable.
The rats had feasted well.
When they had finished their work, there was not much left. The stage curtain was festooned in blood and tissue. The rats, replete and satisfied stopped searching for more. They looked towards Flowers in anticipation.
“Return,” was the only word he gave and they immediately fell back into the trap door from whence they had come.
“Now I do hope we were all paying attention, because it would be a little tedious to repeat this lesson, wouldn’t it?”
There was only a stunned silence to be heard in response.
“I said, it would be tedious to have to repeat this lesson wouldn’t it, boys?”
“Yes, sir!” they chorused back at him.
“Let’s return to our main entertainment. You, lead on.”
He straightened himself up as if he were a general about to be rewarded for his public duty and started to make towards the door when a cold breeze ran across him. In the olden days, people would have said that something had walked on his grave.
He would have paid it no more attention had he not heard the steps coming his way.