Scott Andrews

School_s Out


How To Be A Killer


I celebrated my fifteenth birthday by burying my headmaster and emptying my bladder on the freshly turned earth. Best present a boy could have.

I found his corpse on the sofa in the living room of his private quarters. I'd only been in that room once before, when I was among a group of boarders who pretended to play chess on his dining table while he stood behind us beaming benevolently as part of a photo shoot for the school prospectus.

He didn't look so smug now, curled up under a blanket clutching a whisky bottle and a handful of pills. I reckoned he'd been dead for about two weeks; I had become very familiar with the processes of bodily decay in the preceding months.

I opened a window to let out the stink, sat in the armchair opposite and considered the fate of a man I had hated more than I can easily express. At moments like this the novels I had read always portrayed the hero realising that their hatred had vanished and been replaced by pity and sadness at the futility of it all. Bollocks. I still hated him as much as ever, the only thing missing was the fear.

The corridor that ran alongside the head's living room was walled by a thin wooden partition and the dormitory I used to share with three other boys lay on the other side. At night the four of us would lie awake and listen to our headmaster drunkenly arguing with his wife, our matron. We liked her. She was kind.

He had been no nicer to the boys in his care. His mood swings were sudden and unpredictable, his punishments cruel and extreme. I don't mean to make St Mark's sound like something out of Dickens. But our headmaster was a bully, pure and simple. Far worse than any of the prefects he'd appointed, with the possible exception of MacKillick; but he was long gone, thank God.

I was glad the head was dead, even gladder that his death had come at his own hands. I enjoyed imagining his despair. It felt good.

Perhaps I should have worried about my mental state.

I considered pissing on the corpse there and then, but decided it would be crass. Pissing on his grave seemed classier. I was just about to get on with the grisly task of hauling him downstairs when I heard a low growl from the doorway to my right.

Shit. I'd forgotten the dog.

Nasty great brute called Jonah. An Irish wolfhound the size of a pony that liked to shag our legs when Master wasn't around to kick some obedience into it. Always had a hungry look in its eyes, even back then. I didn't want to turn my head and see how it looked after two weeks locked in a flat with a decaying owner.

Two things occurred to me: first, that the dog's fear of its master must have been intense to prevent it from snacking on the corpse, and second, that by the time I was able to rise from my seat it'd be upon me and that would be that.

The headmaster's wife left him in the end. One Saturday morning while he was out taking rugby practice she rounded up all the boys who weren't on the team and together we helped move her stuff out of the flat into the transit van she had waiting downstairs. She'd kissed us all on the cheek and driven off crying. When he returned and found her gone he seemed bewildered, asked us if we'd seen her go. We all said 'no sir'.

Perhaps I could roll off the seat to my left, use it as a shield and beat the dog back out of the room. Who was I kidding? It was an armchair; by the time I'd managed to get a useable grip on it I'd be dog food. Despite my probably hopeless position there was an absence of fear. No butterflies in my stomach, I wasn't breathing faster. Could I really be so unconcerned about my own life?

Our new matron had a lot of work to do to win over those of us who'd been so fond of her predecessor. For one thing, she didn't look like a matron. The head's wife had been middle-aged, round, rosy cheeked and, well, matronly. This imposter was in her twenties, slim, with deep green eyes and dyed red hair. She was gorgeous, and that was a problem – she acted more like a cool older sister than the surrogate mum we all wanted. No teenage boy really wants to hang out with his older sister. I liked her immediately, but everyone else kept their distance. They called her Miss Crowther, refusing to call her Matron, but she won them over eventually.

Two months into spring term we all went down with flu. There were only eight of us in residence that weekend but since the sanatorium had only four beds the headmaster decreed that we should all remain in our dormitories, in our own beds, in total silence until Monday. Miss Crowther wasn't having any of that, and confined us all to sickbay, enlisting our help to carry in chairs and camp beds. Then she set us up with a telly and rented us a load of DVDs.

The headmaster was livid when he found out, and we sat in the San and listened to him bawling at her. How dare she subvert his authority, who did she think she was? He had half a mind to show her the back of his hand. It all sounded very familiar. But she stood up to him, told him that the San was her jurisdiction, that if he interfered with her care of sick boys she'd go to the governors so why didn't he just shut up and back off? Astonishingly, he did, and Miss Crowther became Matron, heroine to us all.

The dog's growl changed tenor, shifting into a full snarl. I heard its claws on the floorboards as it inched its way inside the room, manoeuvring itself to attack. I'd foolishly left my rucksack in the hallway; anything I could have used to protect myself was in there. I was defenceless and I couldn't see any way out. There was nothing else for it, I'd just have to take the beast on bare fisted.

When the plague first hit the headlines Matron reassured us that antibiotics and effective quarantine would keep us all safe. The World Health Organisation would ensure that it didn't become a pandemic. Boy, did she ever get that wrong. But to be fair, so did everyone else.

There was a big meeting with the governors, parents and staff, and even the students were allowed a say, or at least the sixth-formers got to choose a representative to speak for them; fifth-formers and juniors didn't get a look in. A vocal minority wanted the school to close its gates and quarantine itself, but in the end the parents insisted that boys should be taken home to their families. One teacher would remain on site and look after those boys whose parents were trapped abroad, or worse, already dead. Matron said she had nowhere else to go, and she remained to tend any boys who got sick. The teacher who stayed alongside her, Mr James, was a popular master, taught Physics, and there had been rumours of a romance between him and Matron in the weeks leading up to the dissolution of the school. One of the boys who stayed behind told me he was secretly looking forward to it. They'd have the school to themselves, and Matron and Mr James were sure to be good fun. It would be just like a big holiday.

I had passed that boy's grave on the way up the school driveway an hour earlier. Mr James's too. In fact almost all the boys I could remember having stayed behind seemed to be buried in the makeshift graveyard that had once been the front lawn. Neat wooden crosses bore their names and dates. Most had died in the space of a single week, two months ago. Presumably the headmaster had returned from wherever he'd been lurking shortly thereafter, had hung around for a while and then topped himself.

My father was overseas when The Cull began, serving with the army in Iraq. Mother took me home and we quarantined ourselves as best we could. Before communications gave out entirely I managed to talk to Dad on the phone and he'd told me that the rumour there was that people with the blood group O-neg were immune. He and I were both O-negs, Mother was not. Ever the practical man, Dad demanded we discuss what would happen if she died, and I reluctantly agreed that I would return to the school and wait for him to come get me. He promised he'd

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