Hello, Darkness

Someone is on a killing spree – slaughtering school pets. The number-one suspect: Johnny. Johnny’s had problems in the past, but they’re behind him now. So what if he sees the world differently? He’s not a killer. And he’s going to prove it.

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1. You Oscillate It

I was sitting on the can when it all kicked off. Third cubicle from the wall. You could be pretty sure of finding me there at 11.30 on a Tuesday morning. That’s because 11.30 on a Tuesday morning meant double maths, and even the sour tang in the boys’ pissoir beat the heck out of quadratic equations, and the stale pleasure of speculating about whether Mr McHale would be wearing the brown safari jacket with red food stains, or the red jacket with brown stains.

I’d grown kind of fond of cubicle number three. The busted lock meant it was never used for any of the more depressing activities that can happen in school toilet cubicles, and the graffiti in there was of a slightly higher standard than usual, including the classic:

How do you titillate an ocelot?

I could usually while away an hour pondering such matters, but this morning I had other things on my mind. My great aunt or some such obscure relation had shuffled off her mortal coil, and Dad, Mum and Sis were going to throw dirt on the coffin. This was all happening down on the coast and they were set to be away for the week. It was my first time alone in the house, which was cool. But Mum and Dad kept hammering me about my meds, even as they were lined up by the door, all ready to go.

“You’ll take your pills, John?”

“Sure, Mum.”

“The white, red and blue ones?”

“I know, Mum. The white, red and the blue.”

“You understand why?”

“I’m not an idiot…”

“The boy’ll be fine,” said Dad, and gave me a look that was supposed to say I trust you, but had too much raw hope in it for that. “Come on, we’ve got to get going.”

I picked up my sis, and held her high and shook her till she giggled.

“Bye, John-John,” she said, and I lowered her down so she could kiss my cheek.

On the way out of the house I looked at the special dispenser with thirty-one compartments, containing my medication for every day of the month. A white, a red and a blue in each little box. But I was late and in a mad rush and I told myself that it would be OK if I took them when I got back from school.

So I was playing the goodbye scene over again in my head in cubicle three when I heard the door to the toilets creak open, and felt that electric line of tension crawl across my shoulders.

There were a couple of possibilities. It could be some kid who’d put up his hand in class and begged to be allowed to relieve himself. The alternative was that it was one of the Shank’s patrols.

This was a more troubling prospect.

The Shank – or Mr Shankley to give him his full name – was the new Deputy, brought in to “save our failing school”, although that turned out to be pretty much in the way the harpoon saves the whale. There was no escaping Shankley. He was all over us like scabs on a leper. A crew-cut Nosferatu, he prowled the corridors looking for kids to murder. His preferred weapon was a voice that could either slit you open with the sly precision of a stiletto, or blow your head off like a roadside bomb.

So, you can see why I wasn’t too pleased to hear the toilet door creak open.

I pulled my legs up and hoped the Shank – if it was him – would settle for a quick look under the row of cubicles. Of course, if he went to each stall and kicked back the door, then I’d be up to my neck in the brown stuff.

What happened was a pause, a rustle, then a sort of faint skittering noise, like the sound of peanut shells falling out of a bag. Then there was a metallic rattle, loud enough to make me jump. And then, well, then some other sound that might have been a cough, or a laugh, or just one of those untranslatable noises that bodies make sometimes.

Then the door opened and closed, and I was on my own again.

All kinds of intriguing. So, up I got and pulled open the cubicle door, using the upperside of my foot on the lowerside of the door, because, frankly, you don’t want to be touching anything in there with your hands.

I wasn’t expecting much, and not much is what I found.

At first.

In fact, not much seemed to be selling it big, because what it looked like was nothing at all. The room was empty. The six sinks still stood in a line, echoed by the six yellowing urinals on the opposite wall. With the six cubicles, that made 666, the number of the beast. Some architect’s idea of a joke? Or maybe Satan himself liked to hang out here, skiving off from maths lessons in hell.

Then I looked down at the floor tiles. Once white, but a lot of amber liquid had flowed this way over the years. There was something on the floor – besides the archaeological deposits of urine, that is.

No, some things on the floor.

Dry, brown things.

My eyes didn’t want to focus. I moved closer and bent to study the whatever-they-were scattered across the tiles. I stretched out my fingers, not meaning to touch them, but just assessing the scale of them, getting their dimensions into my head.

Then a couple of things happened pretty close together, and I really couldn’t say which was first. One was the door opening again, and one was me realizing that these dry, brown things had once lived in a glass tank in the biology lab. I think that my lips may even have begun forming the words “stick insects”, when I looked up into four cruel eyes and two malicious smiles. 

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