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Authors: Anthony McGowan

Hello Darkness

BOOK: Hello Darkness
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CONTENTS

Day One: Tuesday

Chapter One: You Oscillate it

Chapter Two: Socked

Chapter Three: The Shank

Chapter Four: On The Case

Chapter Five: God Save the Queens

Chapter Six: CSI

Chapter Seven: Chinatown

Chapter Eight: A Dangerous Lady

Chapter Nine: A History Lesson

Chapter Ten: A Cat, A Dog, A Cold Welcome

Day Two: Wednesday

Chapter Eleven: The Girl

Chapter Twelve: An Act of Gallantry

Chapter Thirteen: The Hit

Chapter Fourteen: Interzone

Chapter Fifteen: Forbidden Flesh

Chapter Sixteen: Back to the Shank

Chapter Seventeen: Some Advice from the Cat

Chapter Eighteen: Starbucks

Day Three: Thursday

Chapter Nineteen: The Three Sisters

Chapter Twenty: The Dwarf’s Story

Chapter Twenty-One: An Orpheus for the Underworld

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Collector

Chapter Twenty-Three: Sick Bay Blues

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Queen Moves

Chapter Twenty-Five: Two Clues For Comfort

Chapter Twenty-Six: Of Love and Demons

Chapter Twenty-Seven: The White, The Red, The Blue

Day Four: Friday

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Counsellor

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Safe

Chapter Thirty: The Final Clue

Chapter Thirty-One: The Cast Assembles

Chapter Thirty-Two: The Briefcase

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Knife that Wasn’t

Chapter Thirty-Four: Schrödinger’s Tortoise

Chapter Thirty-Five: The Last Chapter

Acknowledgements

For Rebecca Campbell, whose silken thread guided me through the labyrinth

DAY ONE
T
UESDAY
CHAPTER ONE
Y
OU
O
SCILLATE
I
T

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.

CHAPTER TWO
S
OCKED

AS
I looked up, Bosola and Funt looked down.

This was
not
good.

Shankley himself would have been grim, but at least you’d know roughly what to expect. You’d get yelled at, and you’d get detention. You might get suspended. You might get expelled. But you wouldn’t get your head kicked in. With these two jokers you couldn’t rely on that.

Bosola and Funt weren’t the kind of kids you’d normally expect to find wearing prefects’ badges, but then that went for all the prefects in our school. The Shank had hand-picked the scumbags, and trained them up to act as his bullyboys and enforcers, thereby neatly getting round the quaint rule that said the teachers weren’t permitted to kick seven types of
merde
out of you any more. The prefects had a thumb in almost every racket that went on in the school, from bun-running for the Lardies to the tax on the Year Seven’s dinner money, extracted in a very business-like manner at the school gates. They also ran the lucrative trade in stolen exam papers, and the word was that the Shank got a ten per cent kickback for turning a blind eye.

These two badasses were the lowest of the low. Funt was the muscle and he followed Bosola around the way a foul burp follows a cheap burger. Funt looked like one of those Easter Island statues, and his conversation was just as lively. He was an idiot savant – you know, one of those guys who can’t tie his shoelaces or catch a bus, but have one special ability, like knowing pi to a million decimal places, or being able to remember exact cloud formations on a particular day when he was six years old. Funt’s special ability was that he could punch you in the mouth and spit in your eye at the same time.

OK, so maybe not such a savant. Maybe just an idiot idiot. An idiot squared. Either way, he was the nearest the duo got to a good cop.

Bad-cop Bosola looked like a girl, but if ever you bumped into him it was a good idea to check afterwards to make sure your throat hadn’t gotten itself accidentally slit. He was a pink-eyed, white-haired albino, but he died his hair black and wore coloured contact lenses. It was said that if he took his contacts out and gave you his pink-eyed stare, you’d go mad or drop down dead or, at the very least, soil yourself – but I reckoned that was just his PR machine, and deep down he was a sissy. He spoke with the sinister high-pitched whine of a dentist’s drill:

“Oh, now just when I thought the day was a write-off, here it is, like a gift from heaven, wacko Middleton, squirming like a cockroach on the toilet floor.”

Funt grunted. It was the sound you’d get from a pig when you put its slops out at feeding time.

“And what do we do to a crap-house roach?” continued Bosola’s whine.

“We stamp on it,” replied Funt, his voice rumbling like a dumper truck in a quarry. And he stepped forward, ready to put precisely that plan into operation.

But before the stamp, came a crunch.

“What the…?” said Funt, looking down. He lifted up his shoe and peered at the sole, like a caveman trying to work out how to change the fuse on a plug.

Bosola checked out the floor too. He also looked puzzled. Then he smiled. “This is nice. This is better than nice. We haven’t just got some skiver; we’ve got a psycho.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, getting up. “I found these here, same as you.”

“Not what it looks like to me, pal,” said Bosola. “Mr Shankley’s gonna do his nut when he sees this. He loves his little pets, doesn’t he, Futs?”

Another grunt from the monolith. He peeled a stick insect off his shoe, like spiky gum.

Bosola was right about one thing. As part of the New Regime, Shankley had filled the school with all kinds of animals. The thinking was that it would diffuse some of the violence, bring in a dash of that “
awwww
, ain’t it cute” vibe. So that’s why we had those damn stick insects in the biology lab, as well as three nervous (and eggless) chickens in a run near the playing fields, a couple of guinea pigs called Snuffy and Sniffy in the Sixth Form common room and, most important of all, a tortoise called the Venerable Bede, who was the official school mascot.

Actually, the tortoise wasn’t part of the New Deal. He’d always belonged to our Principal, Mr Vole, and was said to be the same age as the old man.

The Shank used the poor beasts in his Friday assembly orations, lauding the loyalty of the guinea pigs, the sagacity of the tortoise, and the community spirit of the chickens, who would happily have given up their eggs if they’d ever managed to lay any. Maybe, for all I can remember, he even praised the artful cunning of the stick insects.

But now the stick insects had gone for the big sleep and I was up to my neck in manure.

BOOK: Hello Darkness
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