Authors: Paul Gamble
: Y-eeesss. But we're also going to charge you Â£20,000.
: Twenty thousand pounds! For telling us our own ideas back to us?
: Well, yes, but the report will have a
really nice cover
Unfortunately, although the special assembly had taken up more of the morning than normal, it still hadn't taken up enough time for Jack and David to miss P.E.
It wasn't that Jack especially disliked physical activity. It was more that he especially disliked P.E. teachers.
When Jack's parents had taken him to visit Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
in London, they had walked through the Chamber of Horrors. There had been wax figures of masked torturers doing unspeakable things to poor, unfortunate wretches. Sticking things where things shouldn't be stuck. Placing unbearably hot things onto parts of the body that definitely weren't heat resistant.
“I bet you're glad they don't have those kinds of people around anymore,” said the mustache that passed for Jack's father.
Jack had thought to himself that the problem was that people like the torturer still existed. It was just that there were fewer job opportunities in the torturing industries these days. So the kind of people who used to become torturers applied to become P.E. teachers instead.
Jack and David were getting changed with the rest of the boys in their class when Mr. Rackham, the P.E. teacher, walked in. He was a large, barrel-shaped man with thick forearms and legs that bulged like a pair of overinflated pink balloons
out of his regulation blue running shorts.
He was missing a hand, which he said he had lost in a particularly vicious rugby scrum many years ago. His hand had been replaced with a pair of steel pincers that he used to crush cans of fizzy pop when he was finished with them.
Jack found it slightly bizarre that a man who had lost his hand playing rugby would want to encourage small children to take up the sport, but the viciousness of P.E. teachers clearly knew no bounds.
Mr. Rackham was completely bald, but still sported an enormous, bushy beard. This had led to Jack once asking him, “Mr. Rackham, why have you put your head on upside down?” Following this incident Jack was made to run twenty laps of the rugby pitch, until he thought he was going to throw up several of his internal organs. Jack later told his classmates that to see the look of rage on Mr. Rackham's face he would gladly have run another twenty laps. We have no information about how Jack's internal organs felt about this proposal.
There was a horrendous screeching noise. Jack's nerves jangled and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Jack looked up to see that Mr. Rackham was signaling for silence by pulling the fingernails on his one remaining hand across the small rectangular chalkboard that he carried with him at all times.
This was further proof, if it was needed, that P.E. teachers were evil. Whereas all other teachers had switched to using computer projectors and modern technology, Mr. Rackham still carried a small chalkboard with him. It was about the same size chalkboard that people used in kitchens to write lists on. He claimed that he used it to keep score in football matches, but that clearly wasn't the reasonâhe could have used a clipboard or even a mobile phone to do that. Mr. Rackham clearly just liked making the ghastly nail noise when he wanted the boys' attention.
Jack always wondered why he found the sound of nails being dragged across a chalkboard so unpleasant. He wasn't scared of chalkboards and he wasn't scared of a person's nails (no matter how badly they were manicured). Therefore why was the combination of those two things together so nerve-wrenchingly unpleasant? He supposed he would never find out.
“All right, ladies,”
said Mr. Rackham. “Today it's going to be football. I trust you all brought your kits.”
Jack smiled and thanked the heavens he'd remembered his kit. The fate for a boy who forgot his kit was horrific. As Jack pulled up his navy blue socks and began tying his laces he realized the changing room was uncharacteristically silent. He looked up and realized why.
Over in the corner John Andrews had raised his hand.
Rackham noticed the hand and a sadistic smile played across his face, “Yes, Andrews, what is it?”
Andrews gulped. “I'veÂ â¦ I've forgotten my kit, sir.”
“Have you indeed? Well, maybe one of the other boys has brought a spare P.E. kit with them?” Rackham looked around the room at the boys. “No?” Rackham faked astonishment. “How disappointing. And how selfish that none of the boys here thought to bring a spare kit for you.”
Rackham walked back into the little cubbyhole room at the bottom of the changing area that he referred to as his “office.” He came out carrying a cardboard box. A simple brown cardboard box, and yet it struck fear into the hearts of all the boys present. As always in situations like this, Jack felt extremely sorry for Andrews, but also extremely glad that it wasn't him who had forgotten his kit.
Mr. Rackham smiled so widely you could see every single one of his glistening, brown teeth.
“Looks like you'll just have to pick your kit out of the box of spares.”
John Andrews looked as if he was going to cry as he slowly crept toward the box. What followed was something horrificÂ â¦ appallingÂ â¦ disgusting. Something that no one wanted to beholdÂ â¦
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
David and Jack watched as John Andrews ran around the pitch trying to tackle other players. All the other players passed the ball before they let Andrews get anywhere near them.
The box of spares contained the worst pieces of P.E. kit known to man or boy. Shorts that were too tight, stained T-shirts, socks that smelled of death.
Few of the boys who had looked inside the box wanted to talk of its contents, but one had claimed that most of the pieces of kit were covered in moss and that he saw something moving at the bottom of it. Something that was a cross between an insect and a snake.
It was horrifying to watch someone reach inside it. They always reached in as if they were scared that something inside the box of spares was going to bite their hand. The box of spares in its small cardboard heart held as much terror as any medieval torture chamber or modern-day battlefield.
Currently Andrews was running around the pitch wearing a pair of shorts that were far too tight for him. You could see marks around his waist where they bit into his flesh. They also had a rip in the back where his underwear poked through. The T-shirt managed to be too baggy for him, and yet at the same time too short, only covering half of his belly button. Finally, as if that was not embarrassing enough, the T-shirt bore two stains. One on the front and one on the back.
The front stain was a kind of orangeish-red. It was also quite textured and small pieces flaked off it as Andrews ran. The stain on the back was a dull green in color and, thankfully, flatter. For some reason it seemed to be in the shape of an elephant.
Andrews was putting a brave face on having to wear the kit from the box of spares, but David and Jack both knew that inside he would be crying.
It wasn't just the social embarrassment of the whole thing, although that was bad enough. It was also the possibility of disease. Simon Jenkins had been the last boy who had worn a kit from the box, and he had died of liver failure. They'd held a special assembly for him and the headmaster had said that it was a tragedy that one so young had died. Apparently the doctors had no idea why Simon's liver had failed at such a young age. However, everyone in his P.E. class had known whyâthe hateful box. But it wasn't something you could tell your parents. They would just have laughed.
“I'm glad my parents never bought me a P.E. kit like that,” David said sadly.
“Me too,” Jack agreed. But it made him think. He had never seen any of the other children in his class wearing clothes like those that appeared in the box of spares. SoÂ â¦ where exactly did they come from? And for that matter, how did they get left in the changing room?
“You think we should actually try and kick the ball or something?” David asked Jack.
“Yeah, might as well,” agreed Jack.
David ran up the pitch and made it almost all the way to the halfway line before he fell over and managed to get his limbs tangled. From this distance Jack thought that they'd plaited themselves into a reef knot, but it was hard to tell.
THINGS THAT ARE HORRIFIC, APPALLING, AND DISGUSTING
It is interesting to note that, anytime someone says, “No one wanted to see that,” it is something that people always pay close attention to. So, for example, after a car crash, people are always slowing down to see any gore as they pass. Television programs that show particularly gruesome films of medical procedures always have sky-high ratings. People watching these shows always say, “Oh, this is horrible, this is horrific, this is the worst thing I have ever seen”Â â¦ and then they look around for their Sky Plus or Tivo remote control so they can rewind it and watch it again.
There are a lot of theories as to why we watch such awful things with such absolute joy. However, it is generally accepted that a large part of the reason that we do it is because it is somewhat reassuring to note that in life, worse things do happen to other people.
Jack spent all morning thinking furiously. He had realized that there was something very odd indeed about the box of spares and tried to explain his ideas to David at lunchtime.
“Okay, I'm really trying to keep up with you here,” said David. “Explain to me again why the fact that there's a box of spare P.E. kits means that someone is kidnapping children?”
Jack sighed. “It's simple. Where would clothes like that come from? The ripped clothes? The stained clothes? They'd be thrown out, right? I mean, if your mum bought you a T-shirt that was the wrong color, what would you do?”
David shrugged. “Get her to buy a new one. I'd tell her that I'd get made fun of.”
“Right, but who would keep a T-shirt like that?”
“Well, a weird kid.”
“And what do you mean by a weird kid?”
“Jack, you know exactly what I mean by a weird kid. One with funny hair, who doesn't have the right schoolbag, or watch the right TV programs. An oddball.”
Jack nodded. “Exactly! All the clothes in the box of spares are the kind of clothes that odd kids wear. What's the other thing that we know about odd kids?”
“Look, we just watched what happens when someone wears a kit from the box of sparesâno one talks to them.”
“Well, of course no one talks to the odd kids. There's a very fine line between talking to an odd kid and having other people start to think that
an odd kid.” David shuddered at the thought.
“So, would you notice if an odd kid went missing?”
David thought about this for a minute. “WellÂ â¦ of course I would.”
“Would you? You don't speak to them. They don't speak to you. One day they aren't there; how would you know?”
“Maybe I wouldn'tâ¦”
“So the box of spare kits exists because someone is taking those kids away and leaving their kits behind. No one notices because no one cares if an odd kid goes missing.”
David looked at Jack. “Do you really think odd kids are going missing from our school?”
“It's the only thing that makes sense of the box of spares. Think about this, David: Who's the oddest kid in our class?”
David looked around the playground as other members of their class ran by. He
ed for a while and then came to a rather unpleasant realization. “I'm the oddest kid in the class, aren't I?”
Jack put his hand on David's shoulder. “I'm afraid you are. But you aren't even that odd. There must have been more odd kids at the start of the term. But they've gone missing. Their parents may notice, but no one in the school does.”
David gulped. “You'd notice if I went missing, wouldn't you?”
“Of course I would,” said Jack. “But if other kids have gone missing, we've got to try and track them down.”
“How?” David asked. “And more to the point, why?”
“Aren't you curious about anything?” Jack asked.
“I've got an idea. Remember this morning, that guy Grey? He seemed to be at the center of very odd things. And what we need at the moment is a man with experience in dealing with very odd things indeed. I'm going to try and find him.”
Many people have asked if there is a simple way to test whether someone is an odd kid or not.
The test is simple. Ask the kid in question if they have ever wondered if they are an odd kid. If they answer anything other than “No. Never,” then they're almost certainly a bit of an odd kid.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
In short. Odd kidsâyou know who you are.