By P.J. Greystoke
Extract from the Highfield School prospectus January 2016 and used in evidence in November of the same year:
“… Celebrating its third successive ‘Good’ from Ofsted and a 48% GCSE average A – C grade increase; Highfield High is so much more than a school. Our dedicated staff stimulate and encourage personal development as well as academic growth. Every child matters, and as the assistant head I see to it that their every need is catered for.”
Prof John Gorman – Assistant Head Teacher.
“You gonna help me put up the displays in the back office then?”
Carolyn sat in the open dining area, playfully spinning on her little round seat, till she was facing the new supply teacher.
Dave shrugged. “Yea if you want me to; but aren’t I supposed to be teaching year 11 science now?”
Carolyn laughed. “You are new aren’t you?”
To Dave’s utter astonishment she reached out and touched his knee, caressing it slowly in small concentric circles. For a moment, he was transfixed by her hand, almost as though it had some sort of hypnotic power over him.
“Guess I’m kinda new myself.” She giggled.
He didn’t remove the hand, instead slowly looked up till their eyes met. A wry smile had already formed on her face; her bright red lipstick reflected perfectly the dumbfounded expression on his own face.
“We help each other out here, y’ know?” She whispered, then raised an eyebrow, stood up and sauntered slowly and seductively into the back office, leaving the door open behind her.
A queue of ill-tempered teenagers had already begun to line up outside his science room. His gaze darted back and forth frantically, from the office door to the classroom.
How much do I need this job? He thought, and what of his wife?
He was a married man, had been for fourteen years, but for all the sex he got, he may as well have taken a vow of celibacy alongside his wedding vows. He stood up, briefly checked to make sure his apparent arousal was not evident then marched directly to the office entrance, confidently taking a deep breath and walking inside.
Sheila Lonsdale a 65-year-old battle axe of a secretary stopped typing and glared at him. Her stare was unnerving, almost like she was looking right through him. Shocked, he took a sudden step back, knocking a pile of unopened exam papers to the floor.
“I’m sorry” he stammered “I was looking for…”
He glanced around the small room. Carolyn was not there. Aside from the entrance he’d just used there was only one other door and that was directly behind the ogre he had unintentionally disturbed. Her chair was practically pressed up against it.
“Did you see anyone…? I’m sorry, I have a class. I’ll just go.”
The secretary said nothing; instead, she turned her attention to the fallen papers. Dave apologized once more then slowly backed out of the room, leaving the door open behind him.
Year eleven science, though only timetabled to last an hour seemed to go on forever. His meandering thoughts of his encounter with the teaching assistant seemed to block out the usual Neanderthalic comments from his budding students:
“Do we have to work?”
“Can’t we just watch a movie instead?”
“Don’t see the point in science I’m gonna be a drug dealer when I leave school.”
“Have you never seen Breaking Bad, stupid!?”
The bell sounded and the students didn’t wait for his permission to leave before walking out of the classroom.
Dave simply shrugged it off. He was only there until the end of the week and certainly wasn’t going to burst a blood vessel trying to keep kids in line that he was unlikely to ever see again.
He sat down and read the notes that had been left sellotaped to the desk for his next lesson, year 10 GSCE revision group. Should be quiet at least he thought.
“I missed you in the office. Thought you were going to come.”
His head shot up almost as fast as his heart rate.
The sweet voice came from the open entrance to his classroom. Carolyn propped herself up on the frame.
“I did come,” he said, resisting the temptation to make a pun on the double meaning of the word; he didn’t know her that well just yet. “But you weren’t Instead,I was greeted by the wicked witch of the west.”
She smiled, then walked away and down the hall.
Almost as soon as she was out of sight Dave dove out of his seat, banged his knee on the desk and ran to the entrance, looking up and down the corridor for Carolyn, whilst rubbing his sore knee. Gonna be a bruise there later, he thought.
Yet again she was nowhere to be seen. He felt sure that even if she were running at top speed he would surely have noticed her dart off and down the corridor. It is conceivable, he thought that she could have walked into one of the nearby rooms, but he wasn’t about to walk in and announce that he was looking for a sexy teaching assistant, and had anyone seen her.
There wasn’t time anyway, a pimple faced year 10 boy pushed past him and into the classroom, picking his nose and wiping the contents onto his blazer, which looked more like an open cloth casket for disregarded nasal mucus than the smart jacket that students were expended to proudly brandish.
Dave took his seat and the class quietly got on with their work. Ten minutes into the lesson John Gorman, the assistant head popped his head around the corner.
Michelle Henderson, an attractive year ten student noticed him at once and stood up, brushing her hair seductively to one side of her face. There were plenty of boys her own age, who would have dated her given the chance -which may not be saying much, a few of them would also go out with the aging secretary if they thought she’d go for it- but Michelle’s desires were firmly fixed on John Gorman.
“Hello sir” she whispered in a mock Marylyn Monroe voice, “Are you looking for me?”
John smiled, and his obvious show of embarrassment was met with taunting cheers from the rest of the class.
“No Michelle I’m not. Do Sit down, and don’t forget your detention tonight.”
He tried not to, but did glance at Michelle’s legs as she slowly returned to her seat.
Dave caught the direction of Johns gaze and shook his head.
The assistant head’s a perv!
“I’m actually looking for Carolyn, the new teaching assistant, anyone seen her?”
You and me both, Dave thought. Though judging by your apparent interest in that year 10 student, probably not for the same reason.
Dave did a quick circle of the room – may as well make it look like I’m working, and impress the pervy boss – John didn’t even notice him, just took a quick glance around at the students chatting, made some comment about it being cold and walked off.
Michelle watched, starry eyed, as the teacher disappeared from sight.
“Detention again?” scolded Carly, one of Michelle’s closest friends, who was a little deflated at the prospect of walking home alone.
“What for this time?”
Michelle smiled. “Not wearing uniform.” She answered.
“Or much of anything else” laughed one of her classmates.
“Immature”, she said and tugged at the hem of her skirt till it was level with her knee.
“Guessing you’re not hungry?”
Dave looked up from his book. He’d had a copy of Stephen Kings Gunslingers tucked in his jacket pocket for the past few days; there’s a time in everybody’s life when they have to do the dark tower series, and this was his. Besides it was a good way of remaining solitary.
Carolyn was perched on his desk. He didn’t see her jump up there, but he did see the way she sat was making her skirt slowly ride up her smooth legs. It was near impossible to hide his feelings of arousal and furthermore, his desire to have the skirt removed altogether.
“Where did you go before?” He half choked trying to retain a little composure. “I chased after you, knocked my knee on the desk. Gonna be a bruise there later.”
“It’s all in the mind you know, physical pain, internal desires… me.”
She pushed her skirt up an inch further with her index finger.
“Can be hard to distinguish between what is real, and what you really want.”
Her signals to him were as clear as though they had been etched in big neon letters across her body.
Come and get it baby!
Putting the book down on the desk, he chanced a bold move with his hand toward her bare thigh. She took his hand in hers before it could make contact and slid down from the desk.
“Come with me.”
She led him to the dimly lit walk in book closet which was attached to the classroom and pulled the door so that it was nearly closed, leaving a tiny crack where the door met the frame so they could keep watch for unwelcome intruders.
This is it, he thought, all my birthdays and Christmas’s coming at once, soon to be quite literally.
Carolyn wasted no time; pushing him up against the wall and moving in so close so that their lips were barely touching. He reached down and grasped at her top, wanting to rip the thin blouse from her body, wanting to tear every scrap of clothes from…
Carolyn smiled and signaled for Dave to peer in through the crack, which he dutifully did and recognized the girl at once.
“Yes I’m alone. Ok hang on.”
Michelle Henderson, the scantily dressed student from period one closed the classroom door, then pushed a chair up against it, preventing unwelcome entry. She paused and carefully scanned the empty classroom. Satisfied she was alone she sat, virtually facing the closet.
Dave was afraid to move a muscle, though he found the role reversal rather exciting; two teachers hiding from the discovery of a student.
Carolyn simply sat on a pile of books, unhooked a button from her blouse and started pretending to read the first book her searching hands could find. Dave smiled and shook his head.
“Ok I’m back. Are we still meeting later baby, and maybe a little extra ‘detention’ on Saturday too?”
Detention? Dave thought.
“Ooh John. Sorry Mr. Gorman.” She repeated in the same Marilyn Monroe mock voice that he liked so much.
Dave glared, dumfounded at Carolyn, who simply nodded as though it was old news. He returned his spying eye to Michelle.
“What did you tell your wife this time?
Carolyn? But I haven’t seen her.
How does she know?
Big deal. She’s just jealous. Besides all the kids know she’s got a thing with that supply teacher who was here yesterday; she probably ran off with him.”
Dave shot another look at Carolyn, who placed the book down on the floor, fixed the top button of her blouse and moved closer to the door. He didn’t know what to react to first; the fact that A student was having an intimate relationship with a senior member of staff, or that Carolyn seemingly knew all about it already.
He made to run out from the closet and confront her but was stopped by Carolyn, who grasped his arm and reverently shook her head. Michelle continued:
“I love you. Do you love me?
Well say it then.”
She laughed, hung up the phone and walked out of the class.
Barely a second later Dave burst out from the closet, silent rage building within.
“Ok” he shouted. “What the hell’s going on?”
“You still don’t remember?” Came the sorrowful voice from within the closet.
“You will. Meet me 6 o clock tonight in Mr. Gorman’s office.” she answered, then started to cry. “And I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
There was no response.
“Come on Carolyn, you can’t hide in there forever!”
He stormed over to the closet, swung the door open and…
Carolyn was gone.
What the hell??
The classroom door was open. Michelle had left it that way, but Carolyn hadn’t used it, he would have seen. Surely?
He sat at the desk and buried his head in his hands, convinced that he must be going mad.
That is the only explanation. He thought.
He was a scientist after all – He needed an explanation; to logically work out what the…
He was going mad.
The only logical explanation.
The bell sounded and more students poured into the room, followed by Miss Pervis the biology teacher who settled the class rather quickly. She stood at the front and glanced down to the notes sellotaped to Dave’s desk.
“Right you lot. Open your books to page forty-three, plant and animal cells. Read the chapter, answer the questions and don’t talk. These walls are paper thin, my class is next door, so if you make any noise I will know. I have a nice bunch of detention slips which I’m dying to use, that includes you Sonia. Your parents have already asked me to call at the end of the day to give them an update on your behavior!”
Dave shrugged. Was his presence even more superfluous than normal?
“Thank you Miss Pervis.” He added “But I think I can handle this.”
“Any questions?” Miss Pervis asked, looking around the bored faces staring blankly back at her.
Sonia raised her hand.
“What happened to that supply teacher miss? If our normal teacher isn’t here and when the hired help doesn’t turn up… well that’s not good for our education is it?”
The rest of the class laughed.
“And we all want a good education” another student added before joining in with the laughter of the room.
“Quiet!” Miss Pervis yelled “Shall I just hand out those detentions now?”
That seemed to kill any feelings of levity that the students might be experiencing.
“He said we could call him Dave.”
“Well you can’t. Mr. Jenkins called in sick this morning, left a message with Mr. Gorman, so if any of you want to go discuss it with him, please be my guest.”
She extended her arm toward the open door as an invitation.
No one moved.
“I thought not. Right on with your work.”
Miss Purvis walked from the room, closing the door behind her.
The ignorance of some teachers, Dave thought. And I never called in sick. I’m right here!
“Miss Purvis.” He called after her.
She didn’t respond and none of the kids so much as glanced in his direction.
Disgruntled, he walked to the door and made to turn the handle, but his hand just floated right through. He stepped back in astonishment before slowly reaching his hand out and trying again. The result was the same. He clasped his hands together. They both felt solid to him. But the door…
Nervously, he turned to face the class.
“This door, has anyone been tampering with it?”
No one answered.
The ridiculousness of the question was apparent to him. What could they have possibly done?
Maybe he was going mad.
First Carolyn, he thought, then Miss Purvis; maybe she wasn’t ignoring, maybe she couldn’t hear, or see me?
Am I… dead?
I can’t be!
“Right everyone in the class.” He shouted at the top of his voice. “I need you to listen to me. I am a monkey.”
No laughter. Nothing.
“Free money for the first person to put their hand up.”
The students continued with their quiet chatter whilst being blissfully unaware of both his presence, and of course, the chapter they were meant to be reading.
“Please, somebody talk to me!”
Suddenly and without warning, a very slow heartbeat sounded in his ears. Quiet at first but gradually getting louder with every strike. The eventual noise was so deafening that he had to press his hands against his ears, a futile effort to keep the noise out, as the sound seemed to be coming from within.
He clamped his eyes shut, his head still pounding and stumbled forward wincing in pain, gasping helplessly for breath.
With great effort he opened his eyes. Five or six students were sitting around him having a conversation, but none were paying him any attention.
He looked down to see that he was standing in the middle of a perfectly solid table. Students either side, with him as the petrified centerpiece. Sonia flung a text book at another student across the table and it passed right through him.
This is impossible. He thought.
His mind, as well as enduring the most dreadful pain, was lost, swimming, drowning in a sea of unanswered questions. He tried to focus, to swim. Praying for a brief moment of clarity:
“Carolyn!” he said aloud.
“She can see me, hear me She can even touch me. I must find her!”
Almost as if it had a mind of its own, and was waiting for the science teacher to reach this realization, the door opened on its own.
A couple of students looked toward it.
“Oooh we have ghosts.”
“Just the wind stupid.”
“The ghost of a penguin, it’s freezing in here.”
Dave walked through the table, right through a couple of students, and straight through the open door, which slammed shut behind him, nearly shattering the glass and making the students in the classroom jump.
“I can’t be dead.” he tried to convince himself. “I mean I live the most boring life, never take any risks. But that doesn’t mean I don’t… I still have dreams, ambitions.”
He thought of his wife, strangely without remorse. He always assumed that he must love her, I mean they shared a house, a mortgage. Went on one holiday a year and slept in separate beds. He’d even forgiven her infidelity on more than two occasions. If that wasn’t love, then…
“Hello!” He called out, half afraid and half hoping to attract the attention of whatever entity caused the door to open.
There was no answer.
The end of period bell sounded for lesson changeover. Students left the classes and filled the corridors, almost doddering, in no apparent hurry to continue with their valued education. Pensioners, Zombies and secondary school students all share a common walk, Dave thought.
He glanced up at the clock on the wall.
Ten past two and fifteen seconds, sixteen seconds, seventeen. Back to fifteen and repeat.
The clock is broken?
No. He looked around.
Everyone in the hall was doing the same, caught in a perpetual loop – walking a few steps, asking half a question, taking half a bite of a sandwich, tripping over and falling halfway to the ground, surrounding student’s half preparing for the explosion of laughter that was to follow. – then rewind and back again, over and over.
Dave walked and passed freely through objects and people alike, and if it weren’t for the ever present heartbeat pounding like a persistent drum in his head, or for the fact that he was inexplicably ethereal, he could have almost enjoyed this.
He found that the closer he moved toward the school office the more painful and intense the drumming was. Something told him that the answer to this mystery lay behind that door, but every fibre of his being, or whatever was left of it, wanted to move as far away from that place as possible.
He quickly resolved that knowledge was power and that the unbearable head pain was but a necessary evil, so took several strides closer till he stood outside the office door.
If I am a ghost, he thought, then it will be pointless trying the handle. I should just walk through the door the same way I have been with everyone and everything else.
He walked, full force, with absolute certainty, slap bang into, but sadly for him not through the door. He hit his nose so hard that he thought it may be pushed into the other side of his face. It put him in mind of a previous student remarking a few years ago, how Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series probably walked into the wrong train platform and lost his nose.
Dazed and confused, he turned around to hear a mechanical whirring. The clock on the wall was moving forward again, this time faster. The minutes were moving as fast as seconds and with it, the movement in the hall continued too, only at super speed.
In next to no time, all the children and teachers raced by and left. The cleaners came in too; did the briefest day’s work they had ever done then departed leaving him finally alone and in complete darkness, save for that one clock which shone brightly.
Carolyn was in the assistant heads office. In a land of uncertainty, this was one thing he was sure of; perhaps the only thing he was sure of.
He ascended the stairs that led to the carpeted area leading to the offices of the senior management team, never once doubting that he was doing the right thing. A flickering light at the end of the corridor told him that this was probably Mr. Gorman’s office.
If he had been in any doubt however, then that was soon to be alleviated when the spirit of Carolyn floated through the open door and turned to face him.
“Come with me”, she said and extended her hand for him to hold, which he did.
They both walked through the locked door and into John Gorman’s plush, executive office.
John was sitting at his desk, fists clenched, a face like stone; the stereotypical image of complete power and dominance. He was staring at the year 10 student who was drowning in floods of tears on the couch opposite.
“Are you with me or not?”
She shook her head.
“Ok. Have you told anyone else? Well, aside from Carolyn, but she won’t be saying anything now.”
She shook her head again.
Carolyn squeezed Dave’s hand.
“In fifteen minutes John Gorman is going to come to the inescapable conclusion that it’s far too risky to have Michelle’s mouth roaming free. He’s going to sit over there on the couch, pretend to comfort her, tell her everything is going to be alright, then fix his murderous hands round her throat and squeeze every last breath from her body.”
“What? But she didn’t… She’s just a kid.”
“Yes, being done for rape is a pretty big incentive.”
“And since he already has one murder to his name.”
“Murder? But he hasn’t killed her yet. Surely we could…”
“Come with me to the closet.”
Dave was confused but followed.
Once through yet another locked door, Carolyn pointed at the bloody corpse sprawled on the floor. Dave tried not to look; the battered body of the former teaching assistant was barely recognizable as the lady he’d been lusting after, been fantasizing about ever since they first met. He almost cried.
“Oh Carolyn, I’m so sorry.”
A single teardrop dripped from her ethereal eye.
“He can’t get away with this. You have to stop him.”
“How did he? I mean why you?”
“Take both my hands and close your eyes.” She said softly, closing her own eyes.
He moved in close, interlocked his fingers with hers and closed his eyes, breathing slow and steady.
He could hear a clock ticking, shortly followed by the morning school bell and the rush of bodies as teachers and staff milled around the front entrance to the school. Through the darkness, he saw himself walking up to the front entrance.
An image, a memory from the past.
“This is when I first arrived at the school earlier this week”, he said.
He watched as his former self rang the bell on the desk and straightened his name badge
Dave Jenkins, Education Network UK.
“Hi I’m Dave from the agency. Filling in for science this week.”
“Well, hello Dave from the agency.” The smiling and, he couldn’t help but notice, attractive receptionist answered.
“I’m Carolyn. I’m a TA, not normally on reception. But I’d be happy to show you around and get you your timetable. Do you have your DBS forms?”
The image froze and was quickly displaced by another.
Dave and Carolyn were standing in the staffroom alone, laughing and joking as he poured her a coffee.
“…A boyfriend?” she said “No, why? Are you asking?”
He slipped off his wedding band and placed it deep in his pocket.
“Yes, well a drink at least. Tonight after work?”
“Well I have to put some notices up in the back room.” She signaled over to the adjoining room.
“It’s been closed and locked up because of the water damage a few weeks ago. But now that it’s all sorted, the head is going to open it up as a sixth form common area. They even get their own phone. Posh eh? Here take this key, wait for me there after school. If you help me with the posters and stuff, we can go out after if you like?”
The image froze again as another memory took its place, this time not his, but Carolyn’s.
She was yelling at John Gorman, in his office.
“The poor girl came to me. She is so confused, claiming that you and she have been having a sexual relationship for the past few months. Please John tell me this isn’t true!”
John was the picture of calm and tranquility.
“I didn’t realize we were on first name terms Miss Stephenson. That’s a serious allegation.”
He sat on the corner or the desk and started fiddling with a paper weight that had been lying there.
“Tell me, why did she come to you?”
“I’m a friend of the family, that and she said she’s missed a period. She hasn’t done a pregnancy test. She’s too afraid of what it might say, of what you might say!”
He grasped the paperweight in his right hand
“Please tell me it’s not true John.”
First names again, he thought, tut tut.
“Of course it’s not true. Have you mentioned this to anybody?”
“No, hell no. I wanted to talk to you first. But there are channels. We have to tell someone. And if she is pregnant…”
“Yes that does complicate things rather.” He calmly replied as he crashed the paperweight down on Carolyn’s head the moment she turned away from him.
She slumped down to the floor and after a moment of silent shock, screamed repeatedly, trying desperately to crawl over to the exit and down the corridor. Johns massive body weight prevented her escape, and the constant blows to her head that followed rendered her unconscious.
The school was quite empty, John made sure it would be when Carolyn telephoned him after lunch following her conversation with Michelle and requesting a meeting.
Just to be on the safe side though, he decided to take a look around. He stepped outside his office and saw Dave running up the corridor toward him, obviously alerted by Carolyn’s screams for help.
“What’s going on? I heard yelling!”
“It’s Carolyn.” John replied defensively “Some sort of attack or fit or something. She’s in my office.”
Dave pushed past the assistant head and into the office.
He stood, stunned and looking at the lifeless body at his feet. He knelt down to feel for a pulse.
There was none.
Before he had time to react, or challenge John Gorman, he felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and was sent crashing to the floor next to her. The last image he saw before he blacked out was the shocked and helpless eyes of Carolyn, wide open and forever locked in a perpetual cry for help.
The image froze again then slowly faded away. John was once again standing in the closet with Carolyn’s spirit.
“That’s when I came to you”, Carolyn said.
“I have the only key for that sixth form room, the one I gave to you. You weren’t dead, merely unconscious. I caused a distraction, made a noise elsewhere in the school, far enough for John to hear yet close enough for him to go and investigate. I then helped you to the common room and had you lock the door; from there you were supposed to call for the police, but you blacked out. And that’s where you are still, unconscious in the common room.
All the images you’ve seen today; most have been real and others, the ones with me, the sexual ones have been mixed up, made up from your thoughts and feelings of me; confused and dizzy, mixing for the most part, fact and desire. I tried to lead you to the common room this morning, to make you discover your body and wake up, but you didn’t make it.
Michelle’s life is in danger Dave. You have to wake up now, please before it’s too late.”
The repeating heartbeat sounded once again in his mind, stronger than ever and that familiar pain caused him to once again close his eyes.
The drumbeat instantly stopped when he opened his eyes. He stumbled across the floor, onto a chair and picked up the telephone.
From the Highfield Gazette June 21st 2016:
John Gorman, the former assistant head of Highfield High school was today charged with the statutory rape and attempted murder of Michelle Henderson, the brutal murder of Carolyn Stephenson and attempted murder of science teacher Dave Jenkins. He has been ordered to serve three consecutive life sentences.
Judge George Wiseman commented: “John is a selfish, evil and vicious, man without conscience or a single shred of regret for his victims. It is disturbing that he was ever placed in a position of trust among the vulnerable in our society.”
Dave smiled, folded the paper and placed it on the last of his packing boxes. He picked it up and put it in the passenger seat of his car.
Before driving off he took one last look at the house he had shared with his wife these past seventeen years.
Today was a new day.
A new life.