Qualified Entry, Second pixelhose Writing Competition. Fiction Category.
By Daniel Murphy
It was like a dream. I could not believe I had returned here to this wretched place. I had not been here for many a year and had only returned when there had been a report on the demolition of this building scheduled for next month. I knew I would not be able to return here ever again so I made a sudden decision to return. I needed to walk through the panelled corridors again, hear the creaking of the floor through the plush, but threadbare light green carpet. I knew that every teacher that had taught here had perished. All of them had died of old age; all of them had died warm in their beds, with their family next to them. All of them accept one. This school, as you have now figured out is St James’s Senior School. I entered the headmasters` study and it was as I remembered it. The mahogany desk was cobwebbed and cluttered with papers and knick knacks. The fireplace was filled with little collections of items and the bookshelves were still filled with books. These were soon to be moved to the people they were given to in their last owner’s will. The room was exactly the same as it was all of the time. Except for the fact that the desk and the floor round that area had been destroyed by fire. It took me back to the day of the accident. The only teacher that had not died in his bed, old and grey. Mr Varner. His face was above the mantle piece, as a memorial. As I stared into his gaunt face, his short, pointed moustache, I remembered the days gone by…
“The square root of pi is approximately 1.77245.” Mr Varner drawled. I was in the fourth form, in the science room and there was a stench of sweat, chemicals that we had burned and something else… methane. Everyone else smelled it too and obviously thought someone had passed wind. I suddenly noticed that there was a gas tap open and heard the soft hiss of flammable gas. I cut off Mr Varner mid sentence. “Sir we have to leave.” I choked as he brought out a Bunsen burner.
“Nonsense, now pay attention.” He sneezed, then dabbed at his nose with a paper towel. “Forgive me students; my sinus infection is not that good today”. Oh that was why he could not smell the gas. He could not smell at all!
I said in my most stern voice. “Sir, don’t you see that gas hob? Don’t light the fire sir”
too late. He had struck the match as a reflex. The room erupted into a ball of flames. The students hurried out of the room and I hit the fire alarm, well, maybe belted until the glass broke and the deafening wail sounded, would be more accurate. Mr Jefferson, the head of the science department arrived at the door of the lab not ten seconds later.
“Sir. Mr Varner’s in there!” I yelled above the smoke. Mr Varner’s body was brought out by Mr Jefferson minutes later. He had managed to turn off the gas at the labs mains but there was already too much gas in the room. He could not extinguish the flames. I ran out of the corridor only after seeing sir’s dead, black eyes gleam at me.
“I’m sorry” I whispered as I gently closed his eyes. He had been a good teacher. I took of my lab coat and threw it over him. It was the least he deserved.
I escaped up the stairs as Mr Jefferson was fighting the fires. As I cleared the stairs, I met the two PE teachers, Mr Links and Mrs Hicks
“Mr Jefferson is in the science room, with the fire extinguishers.” With that they were off, into the corridor, yanking the extinguishers off their rack behind the leather sofa. As they ran downstairs, I heard Mr Jefferson exchange small jibes at them like, “Wondered when you’d get here.” He was obviously not aware of the state of Mr Varner’s body. As I walked in a daze to the door, I looked into the headmaster’s study, where the floor was beginning to turn black and bubble with heat. That’s when the fire engines came.
At once, I was back in the present, much later. I was still looking at Mr Varner’s photo when I heard a faint murmur. It seemed to be coming from downstairs. Directly downstairs. In the black, charred and burnt science room that I could see from under the crippled, withered floor beneath me to be precise. There was a small green man about five feet tall, portly, with a moustache, dark hair flecked with grey, a white lab coat and a blue lab coat wrapped around him. My lab coat, I realised as I saw the name tag on the outside pocket. He was teaching the square root of pi and, as the Bunsen burner burst into flames, the video-like memory suddenly cut off and there was an unearthly silence. As if all Hell was silent behind you and you were being watched. I had the sudden impulse to fall, to fall into the science room below to my death if only this unendurable terror about what was behind me would stop. I turned around and tried to ignore the stabbing terror that was rooting me to the spot. I knew where the second exit to this room was; between the bookshelf and the cupboards. The hidden door that was mainly used as a coat rack. If I saw something I didn’t like, I would simply run to there, open the door and bolt out the door. Nothing to it. I hoped.
I turned around.
There was nothing there. I spun back around and saw, quite clearly the ghost of William Varner lounging on the headmaster’s chair. He couldn’t make it lie back though, as he had no body weight. He merely sat, unruffled, untouched by age, or time. He was not a projection, could not be a projection. His body was 3-D. his skin and clothes colour was completely off, like an alien was in his skin and was trying to look normal, but as if normal humans always looked ruddy, yet greenish. He spoke in a deadly whisper that echoed around the room.
“so… Mr Murphy, do you know the square root of pi?” he said as he literally changed colour from shy, innocent green to inflamed red. His features were morphing into devilish features. His eyes narrowed, his mouth widened like they do in horror movies where the jaw dislocates and the skin stretches downwards. His nose became pointed. As he roared with rage, fury hit me like a tsunami, washing over me with such overwhelming power that I nearly fell over with fright and crawled back to the car from which I had come. I wanted to. Terror and curiosity about the truth about the demon teacher myth that had circulated around the town of Enfield rooted me to the spot, my face a mask of serenity. As if he were a bully who would disappear as soon as I realised he was there. He did not disappear, however and the door began to vibrate on its hinges and the desk began to shake to the extent that the dust flew off it in clouds. The chairs squeaked as they flew backward across the room as Varner’s ghost stalked closer to me, gliding straight through the desk. I had the feeling that he could move without moving his legs, that he could simply glide without moving across the country if he so wished. But he had always been an eccentric man. This charade was purely for effect. I suddenly realised that he remembered me. I said so.
“You remember me.” I said in an awed voice. His featured suddenly receded back into his face, snapped back into place like a rubber band. His face was now greenish blue and his face completely human again.
“Of course I remember you. You were my best student and one of the last faces I saw. Thank you for closing my eyes. Oh, by the way, this –“he tugged at my lab coat “was actually very useful. Thank you. “
I was amazed. He was exactly as diplomatic as he had always been. He was dead, and here he was commenting on me closing his eyes and giving him my jacket.
“Uuuh it was the least I could do.” I replied.
“Well, Mr Murphy, it was very thoughtful thank you.”
“Why did you speak to me?”
“I get lonely. I cannot teach anymore and I cannot leave the confines of the building.”
“Why not?” I asked puzzled.” I thought that ghosts could go anywhere.”
“You would like to think so, wouldn’t you?” he laughed. Then his voice, how could he even have a voice? He was dead, took on a low, sombre tone.” Unfortunately, we ghosts cannot leave the place where our soul is impregnated. i.e. where we died. It takes some concentration for me to be eight metres above my current resting place, so you can imagine if I tried to leave the building.”
“How can I fix you up?” I asked, pleadingly. I couldn’t believe I was pleading with a ghost to save his immortal soul!
“You have to finish history where it began. Burn the place down. It will finish my soul’s rebirth and I will be free.” He looked at me as if he already knew my answer to be no.
“Okay. Let’s do it. Can you move objects if you try?” his face lit up with surprise and pure joy.
“Yes, but it takes a lot of power.”
“I’m sure you can do it. Your last act as a ghost, to set yourself free!”
“What should I do?”
“Turn all the gas hobs on. I’ll get a match.”…
A few minutes later, the school was on fire. The robes I took from the headmaster’s office and a few books that were to be given back to new owners (and of course the bronze memento that was the last headmasters’ favourite. I would give that to the family of said headmaster. They deserved it).
As I turned, I saw the building burn, Mr Varner glided next to me. “It must take a lot of energy to stay outside the school.” I murmured.
“Not really, the bonds between me and this world have already begun to loosen and break.” It takes more energy to stay here now than to does to go into that curious light next to me.” I couldn’t see anything.
He saw my confused expression and smiled kindly. “Don’t worry, its there.”
He began to be engulfed by a corona of light.
“Apparently this trip cannot wait. Here take these. As a thank you gift.” He smiled as he threw me my coat, untouched by time and, an old pocket watch, gold and silver. It was silent then began to tick strongly. As I opened it, it automatically changed its time to its current time.
He noticed my stare. “That’s a one-shot deal by the way, if it stops, it won’t change back to the correct time when it starts again. It did that to align itself with this continuum.”
“When will I see you again, sir?”
“Out of all of the people who have passed through these doors when I was trapped here, you were the only person who could see me when they returned, you have the gift. Use it well. keep the watch as a reminder of one of your talents, of which you have many” he shouted as he disappeared in a sudden burst of pure light.
I returned to my office and put my pocket watch on the mantelpiece. It then hit me. I had now found my true calling.