Copyright 2016 James Hartley
Published by James Hartley at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
This horrible little story forms an introduction to my Shakespeare´s Moon series of novels, the first of which, The Invisible Hand, will be published by Lodestone Books in February 2017.
If you enjoy the story, please mark The Invisible Hand as [+ want to read on Good Reads+] or pre-order it [+ on Amazon+].
Also, visit , subscribe to my newsletter, and I will send you a new, exclusive, FREE Shakespeare´s Moon story called Delirium. This story is only available to website subscribers, so don´t miss it.
Many thanks to the very talented Lpixel for the fantastic cover of this ebook, and for she, Miss Jane Appleton of Box Hill School and Mer Rooney´s SPF English Class at Obersee Bilingual School for proof-reading it. Any lingering mistakes are all mine.
I would like to dedicate this tale to Seets and Matty, my own little devils.
Han, couldn´t do any of this without you.
So now, without further ado, settle down and enjoy the story.
Dark frost was in the air without,
The dusk was still with cold and gloom,
When less than even a shadow came
And stood within the room.
From Winter Dusk
By Walter De La Mare
Imagine you are the full moon high in the heavens, your face lit bright by the sun. Hanging below you in the starry darkness is the blue marble earth, silent but flashing with the fireworks of world war.
Down from the northernmost ice-cap some green islands are speckled with points of fire. The capital city is alight, under attack from waves of planes and the bombs tumbling from them. Beyond the conflagration is a vast zone of darkness where the country is hiding. You must look very closely to spot a pair of headlights flickering under swaying boughs as a car makes its way along country lanes swirling with leaves.
A storm has come in off the sea with the bombers, and now, hitting land, is gathering pace, tearing tiles from roofs, tipping fences and uprooting oaks which have stood for generations. The sky is fast moving cloud, tangling and untangling to reveal and hide your pale, white face.
A well-groomed man is driving the car, wearing gloves over his spotless hands, squinting as he peers through the rainy windscreen. There are hedges on either side, the road only wide enough for one vehicle, a sharp turn never far away and the strongest gusts, when they come, threaten to topple the car over.
“Oh, Jack, we must stop!” cries the lady in the green matching hat and coat sitting beside the driver. She is very rich, very pale and very scared. “This is madness.”
“We can´t stop,” her husband growls back. The noise of the storm is almost as loud as the engine. A great bushel of leaves and twigs comes hurtling up out of the headlights and rattles over the roof.
On the back seat a young girl, no more than eight, presses her nose to the cold window and smiles up at you. She has dark hair, cut square along the fringe, a pale complexion and empty, black eyes. She watches the trees being shaken free of their leaves, watches the elms and firs bend back and forth in the winds, sees branches snap off and fly through the air and smiles.
This is wonderful! Enid thinks.
“There it is, Jack!”
The headlights sweep into the private grounds and illuminate a sign, low enough to stand firm against the onslaught, which reads: St Francis de Sales School. The driveway leads around a wide lawn to a red brick building covered with shivering ivy which has turrets on either side of its high, pointed roof. Some of the windows in the façade glow with light but most are pitch black, locked, reflecting only the chaos outside.
As the car draws up to the building the great main door opens and a figure wearing a gown and mortar board – he holds the hat with one hand as the tails of his cloak whip about behind him in the wind – steps out into the gale and waves at them. The adults and young girl run across and are ushered into the Main Building.
“What foul weather!” the headmaster cries as he slams and bolts the main door. He turns to his three guests, rubbing his cold hands together. Mr Dedalus is a tall man with mischievous eyes and an airman´s moustache. The most remarkable thing about him is the black eyepatch he is wearing over his left eye. He doesn´t mention or explain it.
“It´s been blowing like this since we got out of London!” exclaims Mrs Graves, who is drawn and shaken.
“Might put Jerry off for a night or two,” mutters her husband.
As the adults talk, Enid stands in the centre of the Main Hall of the school and tries to take it all in. She doesn´t think she´s ever been in a place like this before, not even in London. Alongside the carved stone entrance-arch there are panelled walls and stained glass windows. The glass is bottle green and mosaic blue and through it Enid can see the storm thrashing at the bushes as though looking for prey. A healthy fire is spitting and flickering from a grate beside the windows and Enid goes across to it and stares into the high flames.
“Not too close now, dear,” Mrs Graves admonishes.
More high, panelled walls run down to a small corridor Enid cannot see. This one is lined with school photographs: rows of faces, teachers sitting, pupils standing, each framed and dated. She turns back to where the headmaster is talking to Mr and Mrs Graves and sees a wooden staircase disappearing upwards behind them; the walls beside it are embossed with names written in gold, the Head Boys and Head Girls of the school.
I want to meet all these people, Enid can´t help thinking. I like this place.
“Come along, Enid,” Mr Graves says, holding out his hand and scrunching his gloved fingers. “Mr Dedalus says we should all go upstairs and have a chat.”
“Much more comfortable up there,” smiles the headmaster. He leads the way up the creaking staircase. The centres of each step are worn smooth from footfalls. “I´m not sure it would be a very wise idea to try and make it back to London tonight,” he informs the Graves, wheezing slightly.
“My sister told me there´s an inn somewhere around here, where John Keats stayed?” Mrs Graves waits for the headmaster to pause and look at her. “Would that be very far away now?”
“I´m afraid anywhere is going to be far away in this weather, madam,” smiles Mr Dedalus. “But I´m sure we can find somewhere here for you to sleep for the night. I´m alone here this weekend. Well, apart from the cottages. Plenty of room, though. Skeleton staff, you see.” They´ve come to a landing and Mr Dedalus bends at the waist and holds out his hand, indicating his three guests should make their way along the green carpeted landing they see ahead of them. “Keep going until you see my door. It should be open.”
The headmaster´s office is warm and bookish. There is a fire burning in the grate, though not as wild and fierce as the one downstairs, and the guests settle themselves on the leather sofas and armchairs which take up most of the space nearest the door. At the far end of the room is a dark bay window through which you are visible above a limpid line of tattered clouds. In front of Mr Dedalus´s neat desk, on a rug, a black cat is curled up, asleep.
“We understand the school is being used as a hospital during the war?” Mr Graves asks, lighting up his pipe. He shares a match with Mr Dedalus.
“You´re quite right,” nods the headmaster, face clouded with blue smoke. “Although now there are only a few poor souls out in the cottages and whatnot. They´ve moved a great deal up to Guildford. This building is just for pupils now, you see. The grounds too. At the height of it all we had planes here. I´m rather hoping this term we´ll be back to normal.”
Enid leans down and whispers something into Mrs Graves´ ear and the lady smiles at the headmaster. “Enid was wondering if she may go back downstairs and have a look at the photographs while we talk, headmaster?”
“Yes, yes, I don´t see why not. Don´t go too far, though.” Mr Dedalus waves his pipe about, searching for the words. “Don´t open any doors, now. Not in this weather.”
“Shouldn´t she be getting on with the entrance examination?” asks Mr Graves.
“Oh, I don´t see why that can´t wait until the morning, Mr Graves,” the headmaster replies, nodding at Enid to give her permission to leave. “After all, with the storm and all, it might be best to just shut up shop for the night. Batten down the hatches, as it were.”
“I see,” nods Mr Graves. “Well, Enid. Run along. Don´t get yourself into any bother.”
The three adults wait for the little girl to leave the room and then Mrs Graves makes a tutting noise and says, “It really is such a terribly sad story.”
“And one I find hard to fathom,” answers the headmaster, nodding. “Can it really be that you found her wandering about in the rubble after a raid?”
“Our servant George did, yes,” replies Mrs Graves. “Brought her home to us, he did, and she wouldn´t say anything. Of course we went to the police and they said every house on the street had been destroyed. A few days later we were at a funeral service for,” she looks at her husband. “Who was it, Jack?”
“I forget now. The McCourts, perhaps?”
“Well, it was someone from the same street and they said they´d seen the girl with her parents. From Stratford, they were, the family, she said. Although we can´t be sure of that. Not that it makes much difference now, of course.”
“What I can assure you, Mr Dedalus, is that all Enid´s fees will be settled in full and in advance,” Mr Graves says, “as a show of gratitude for your willingness to help us with the poor creature.”
“We´re too old to look after her now,” Mrs Graves says, sadly.
“Well, we´ve had our children, haven´t we, mother?” Mr Graves answers, looking glum. He catches his wife´s eye and quickly looks into the fire.
“And lost them,” Mrs Graves adds. It has to be said, even in company, even if her husband will go on about it being inappropriate later.
“I´m very sorry,” says Mr Dedalus. And he is. But almost everyone he knows has lost someone in the war and there´s not much point in getting overly sentimental about it, especially as the thing was still going on. “You can both rest assured young Enid will receive a fine education here at St Francis´.”
Mr and Mrs Graves smile, but there is something in their smiles which even the headmaster catches. He doesn´t ask any more questions, instead saying that perhaps they should have a cup of tea before he finds them somewhere to sleep that night. Instinctively, though, he knows there is something about the girl the elderly couple aren´t telling him.
Should we tell him what she´s really like? they seem to be saying to each other with their eyes. No. No, let´s not.
He´ll find out soon enough.
Enid slips out of bed and walks across to the window that´s rattling furiously. Rain splatters against the panes like thrown sand. Outside the night is wild: the wind howling as it batters the building in long, savage gusts. Standing on the threadbare carpet, the floorboards creaking with every step, Enid is grinning broadly.
She has never been able to sleep. She sees things. Faces made of light which form spontaneously on the dark canvas in her mind. She remembers things she doesn´t want to remember, things which might or might not be real but which seem real when she´s alone. She hears voices which sound real. People tell her what she is and where she comes from and she doesn´t want to listen to it. She can only sleep when she is exhausted, mentally and physically, and tonight she isn´t. And so she pulls on her red plaid dressing gown and slides into the slippers waiting by the bed like sleeping poodles. She will go out tonight and explore the school!
Her dormitory is next to the room her parents are sleeping in and Enid is careful to walk on the edges of the landing as she makes her way to the staircase. High-pitched whistling comes from somewhere below, maybe the chimney, while timbers creak and groan above her head. She passes the headmaster´s landing, with its green carpet, and shuffles down to the dimly lit Main Hall. The banisters are icy cold. The fire is out and has been swept: it smells of ash. The storm growls on beyond the stained glass windows.
I want to go out there.
Enid knows better than to walk out of the front door and so explores the corridor she couldn´t see down earlier, when they´d arrived. There is a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and, walking down, she sees two doors: one is marked Staff and the other, at the end of the short, panelled passageway, says Library. Underneath the brass plaque there is a smaller sign, adorned with the school logo, which reads: Magistrate or Higher Only.
Enid tries the door. It opens.
The room is spacious, she can perceive that, and she closes the door behind herself and searches the wall for a light. Again, the bulb is weak and flickers but she can see where she is. The room is almost windowless and bookshelves rise from floor to ceiling along every wall. There are books, old volumes, on the floor in stacks – someone is evidently sorting the stock – and on the only bare wall, where the lone window is, the school flag hangs mournfully from a sloping wooden pole.
Enid salutes, laughing, and skips across the shiny floor but stops suddenly when she notices a draught. It´s a cold thread of air which snakes through the room and burns her skin like ice. As it hits her, the hairs on the back of Enid´s neck stand up and she turns to check the door she´d come in through: it is ajar. Should she go and close it? It seems better to go on, to see if she can get out of the window, so this she does.
The small square window is dark, mottled glass, and about the size of Enid´s head. There is an iron fastening and this opens with nothing worse than a squeak. Immediately Enid feels the force of the storm, the wind trying to rush in, and she makes a decision. Now or never. Opening the window to the full – the main door to the corridor clicking closed, though not as loudly as she´d feared – Enid leans into the window space and sees if she can fit through. The storm buffets her, forcing her eyelids closed and spraying her hair flat against her head, but she thinks she can do it. And she does, wriggling out and falling down onto the damp earth outside.
Trying to control her exhilaration, Enid can´t actually see anything. She stands and fumbles for the window, pulling it closed, but when her eyes finally adjust to the dark she sees a cardboard box stuck fast to the red-brick wall nearby and has an idea. The spread-out cardboard covers the slightly open window and is stuck fast to the wall by the wind and Enid is free.
She walks through the rose beds and bushes and out onto the drive, leaning forwards into the tempest at such an angle that if the wind were suddenly to cease, she would fall straight onto her nose. Beyond the trees, out on the bare lawn they´d driven around earlier that night, Enid twirls in circles with her arms thrown out by her sides and screams with delight. The storm eats her words: it shoves her one way and the other and then, as though bored, races away to attack something else.
Enid looks back at the Main Building – she can only see one bright window, where the headmaster´s office is – and walks forwards to the edge of the lawn, the school gates, to where she thinks she´s seen a light.
As she gets to the main entrance she sees the glow is coming from a window, the window of a small cottage on the other side of the road, and that there is a face in the window. When she notices the face, Enid stops with shock, but the woman, for it is an old woman, takes a step away from the window and stands directly under the light bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling. Gathering the shawl she´s wearing around her shoulders, the old woman gestures for Enid to come closer.
Enid stands at the perimeter of the school grounds, looking back at the Main Building, and can´t decide what to do. Across the damp road, where branches and leaves whip by as though racing somewhere, the old lady appears in the doorway of the cottage and waves again. She has neither a friendly nor unfriendly face. She is very thin. “Come here,” she seems to say with her toothless mouth. “Come closer.”
Enid crosses the road. “No, thank you,” she calls out, from the small stone wall at the bottom of the cottage path. The old lady shakes her head, turns an ear to Enid and moves her palm: What?
“No, thank you!” Enid repeats.
At that moment there is a great flash of lightning which hits either the ground, the top of a tree or the roof of the old woman´s cottage. Neither of them see it but they both feel it. Enid runs up the pathway and the old lady lets her into the cottage. The front door slams closed, silver letter-flap rattling, and immediately the sounds of the storm are muted.
Enid stands, dripping, shivering, in a small hallway which smells of carbolic soap. She tries to say something but her lips are purple and her teeth are chattering.
“Are ye The One?” the old lady asks. She sucks her gums.
“But are ye The One?”
Enid looks at the door behind the woman. Should she run for it? The sudden change in temperature makes her feel sluggish and she blinks to keep her vision clear and straight. The old woman is walking towards her. “When ye write, doth what ye write come to pass?” the gumless lady asks. Her breath is stale and she sucks her gums all the time. “Can ye save my Tommy, lass? Can ye if ye write it?”
“Oh, I don´t know,” Enid cries, and stumbles backwards out of the way of the old lady´s grasping fingers.
A door opens at her back, Enid turns and she finds she´s in a dormitory: some kind of sick room. There are men lying in the six beds, some women lying dozing on the sheets, bottoms on the chairs beside the beds, handbags on the floor. Everyone looks up at the noise of the intruder.
The white sheets look grey in the dim light coming from the curtainless window and Enid´s eyes see scars and legs lifted up in traction, missing feet, bandaged heads and bowls of blood.
“Who the devil are you?” someone cries.
Enid sees another door at the head of a bed, opens it, and is met by a wall of false limbs: claw-like hands, braces, prosthetic arms and a variety of masks. She backs off, people are rising from their beds, and runs to the only window she can see. Back into the storm.
The same mechanism opens the window, the same squeaking heralds her release, the same chaos greets her as nature rushes in and she forces herself out. This time the drop is further and she lands in the thick, gooey soil of a flower bed, but nothing hurts and, although sodden, she walks free, staggering back towards the road.
Before crossing the perimeter and entering the school grounds she turns once and sees twenty faces crowded into the small window space staring out at her and Enid waves at them. This act is not done out of naughtiness or niceness but because she wants them to know she didn´t mean to bother them. The toothless woman is near the bottom of the window and seems to say: She´s The One! and Enid turns back to the Main Building and runs away across the lawn.
They are sick people, that´s all! They are the ones the headmaster was talking about! They have been hurt in the war. This place is a hospital, just as I´ve been told. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing strange about them.
Enid is blown onto her back by an unseen thump which slams into her chest and winds her. For a few seconds she lies flat, unable to do anything, scared for the first time that night. It is the power of the wind which scares her. She cannot move even if she wants to and what would become of her if the storm suddenly decided to throw her elsewhere? As she struggles to get back onto her feet she remembers tall stories of people being moved about by mysterious weather, of showers of fish or toads or sand. People picked up and deposited elsewhere, just like that.
But the giant´s breath ceases and Enid gets up, dusts herself off and runs for the window before it starts again. The cardboard is in place: in her haste to get it off she cuts herself on a thorn, or a bush, and knows she is bleeding. The cardboard is sodden and tears in her trembling hands as she claws at it. The window is open, she lifts herself and, with her last remaining strength, pulls herself through the sharp-edged gap and falls hard onto the wooden floor inside.
The Library door is closed, the light is on, there is no-one there. She stands and forces the window closed and the melee dies away. Enid can hear herself panting. It´s over, she thinks, chuckling to herself. Was there any better thrill than doing wrong? Doing what you shouldn´t? But any pleasure is short-lived as she notices the scene in the room. The wind has flipped open books and torn volumes from shelves. Pages are strewn everywhere. There is water on the floor; rainwater.
Enid tip-toes through the wreckage and for a moment considers cleaning it all up and putting everything back. But that wasn´t her. No, she would sneak away, leave her mess behind, leave it for someone else to find it and deal with it, just as she always had.
On the threshold, tip-toeing out into the warm corridor, closing the door behind herself, she notices she has a sheaf of white paper – old, yellowing, thick paper – stuck to her foot. As there is no bin close by, she keeps it in hand as she runs down to the Main Hall and, after checking the coast is clear, up the staircase. At the top she pauses, breathing heavily, her teeth chattering and rainwater dripping off her clothes and hair onto the wood, and hears again those same sounds as before: the whistling of the wind and the rattling of the tiles, but how quiet they seem now!
Enid opens her dormitory door, sneaks inside, and closes it over gently. I´ve made it! She´s safe.
From her small travelling trunk she takes a towel and a fresh pair of pyjamas and quickly changes, wiping the dirt off her elbows and knees and from between her toes. After one more look out of the window – how she hopes and prays the storm will still be raging the next morning! – Enid climbs into bed.
Only then, lying on her back, heart pounding, does she think back upon her little adventure and remember the old woman. What horrible sour breath she´d had! And what strange things she´d been saying. Are ye The One?
She said if I was the one, what I write would come to pass, Enid thinks, laughing. And if that was the case?
Giggling to herself Enid begins scribbling on the old piece of paper she´s brought back to the dormitory. She writes with a pencil she´d stored under the springs of the bed above.
Molly wakes Mr Dedalus by licking his face. Mr Dedalus is in the middle of a dream. He grunts, shifts in the bed, but then the magic is gone and he remembers where he is.
“Hungry, eh?” he asks, strapping on his eyepatch and stroking Molly´s back. Molly arches her spine and purrs contentedly. She hops off the blankets and pads through to the kitchenette.
The headmaster walks across to the garret window and draws the curtains. The sight that greets his eye is bright and shocking. The back lawns are strewn with branches and dismembered bushes; the copse in the middle of the school playing fields, comprising five strong birches, has vanished. All along the hills which ring the school grounds the trees have been felled like dominos. The sky seems startlingly low and shines like a press flash. Molly, who has no interest in any of this, rubs herself against Mr Dedalus´ ankle and begs his attention.
“I´m coming, my dear, I´m coming.”
Mr Dedalus is sleeping in the garret at the top of the Main Building until the new term starts. It is cramped, with a sloping roof, and he has to go downstairs to where the dormitories are to use the lavatory. As soon as he steps out of his room, after feeding Molly, he hears murmuring voices below. Mr and Mrs Graves? Already? It´s not two voices, though, but a multitude: people laughing and talking. How long did I sleep? Is it the first day of term already?
Dressing gown tied loosely over his flannel pyjamas, Mr Dedalus comes inching down the creaking stairs and peers over the banisters. The entire front hall is full of bodies: pupils in uniforms, teachers and staff. They are standing in groups, talking, some wandering about, the youngest chasing each other around the backs of masters who are rocking their heads with laughter.
But what is this?
Mr Dedalus passes his office landing and comes to the last set of stairs, looking directly out over the crowd. Now he recognises some of the pupils and teachers. Instead of being comforted, though, he feels sick with unease: many of the people he can see he knows are long dead. He notices a young boy he remembers as a student and, looking about, spots the same boy two, three, four times in the crowd – each time older.
What the devil is going on here?
Mr Dedalus comes to the bottom of the staircase and begins to walk through the people. They don´t seem to notice him and he thinks, perhaps, he is in a dream. He hopes he is in a dream. The thought strikes him that his wife might be here, somewhere, in the room, and the idea that he might meet her – although he´d hoped and prayed too many times to over the years since her passing – gives him the chills and spurs him forwards. A moment later he is face to face with himself: younger, taller, darker, lither. Neither of them say a word. Mr Dedalus, he who is in pyjamas and breathing heavily, moves on.
On the wall where the corridor leads down to the Library the headmaster sees eight empty school photographs. The benches the teachers were sitting on are there. The backgrounds – the school lawn, the playing fields, the pond, a summer´s day – are there, but no people. The subjects, the pupils and teachers, are all here, Mr Dedalus realises, in the Main Hall, with him.
This information sobers Mr Dedalus and immediately he has an idea of what is happening. He walks quickly to the Library and finds the door has been left unlocked. He castigates himself for this: he was here yesterday trying to sort out the oldest books in time for term. Worse follows: the Library floor is wet with rain, somehow the storm has entered and damaged some of the books. Mr Dedalus cries out in pain at the mess.
But then he notices something worse still. The prize possession of the Library – of the school – is lying on the floor like a dead bird. This is The Book, the most sacred treasure of St Francis´. The Book is as old as the school and it contains the school’s history and the school´s present and future.
Walking across the wet floor to where the great book is lying, Mr Dedalus feels a knot forming in his stomach. The fact that those people are here, in the Main Hall is no accident. The fact that The Book has been displaced is no accident.
Something terrible is going on.
Enid is leaning over the banisters, staring with joy at the scene in the Main Hall. She has a piece of butterless toast in her hand but is too excited to eat it.
“Come back and sit at the table,” Mr Graves says.
“I´m fine,” Enid replies. She´s spotted Mr Dedalus coming through the crowd. It´s only when she sees him that she realises that all the other people in the hall are different shades of grey, just as they were in the school photographs. Mr Dedalus, in his dressing gown, dowdy as it is, is a riot of colour.
“What´s going on down there?” asks Mr Graves, peering into the crowd.
“A meeting, I think,” replies Enid.
“Go back into the Common Room, please,” Mr Dedalus announces, coming up the last flight of stairs. “Please, both of you, go back into the Common Room.”
Mr Graves and Enid do as the headmaster says and Mr Dedalus follows them. They are in the girls´ Common Room and there are some feminine touches to what might otherwise be a plain, drab space. Prettily embroidered throws adorn battered-looking sofas and there are drawings in frames on the old chest of drawers which skirts the far wall. Pride of place is a large wireless, positioned on an ornate table beside the door.
“I do apologise,” Mr Dedalus is saying. “This is all rather unforeseen. I apologise also for my attire, but I´m afraid the, erm, gathering below caught me unprepared.”
“Are those pupils down there?” asks Mr Graves. “I saw a few were wearing uniforms.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” nods the headmaster, starting to wring his hands. “I´m sorry but before we go on I need to ask all of you a question. Rather a strange question, but I beg you humour me and answer it. Have any of you, at any time since you´ve been here at the school, entered the Library?”
“No,” answer Mr and Mrs Graves together.
“No, sir,” answers Enid.
“And another, I´m afraid,” continues Mr Dedalus, rubbing his forehead. He´s more nervous than he´d thought: his fingers trembling. “Have any of you written anything down since you´ve been on school grounds. Anything at all? A diary? Even a letter or a note?”
Again, all three answer “no”.
“May we ask why?” asks Mrs Graves.
“You may ask,” replies the headmaster, “but I´m afraid it´s rather difficult to explain.” He scratches his head. “Now what are we to do?”
“Could Enid perhaps take the exams?” asks Mr Graves. “The weather´s cleared up and if it´s all the same to you, Mr Dedalus, we might be making our way back to London later this morning if we get our business done here.”
“What? Exams? Yes, well, I don´t see why not.”
Mr Graves turns to Enid: “Are you ready?”
“I´ll just brush my teeth, if I may?”
“Go on then.”
Enid leaves quietly. She is acting like the perfect child for she is very happy. She skips along the banisters looking down at the noisy melee in the hall and marvels at her power. She knew this place would be special!
So I am The One! she laughs.
Back in the dormitory she takes the old paper she´d written on the night before, folds it into four and tucks it into the pocket of her dress.
Oh, now the fun could really begin!
Mr Dedalus comes up with an idea while changing.
If all of those old pupils and teachers are here, he thinks, why don´t I simply make the most of it and ask them for help?
The only thing the headmaster isn´t sure of is whether or not he´ll be able to interact with anyone. The first time he´d been downstairs nobody had seemed to notice him, except his younger self. Would the others be able to talk? And, if they did talk, would they know where they are? Or remember being at the school before?
Well, anyway, he would give it a try. Mr Dedalus was nothing if not practical. And he knew there was no point forever procrastinating: better to do and see what happened than imagine endless possibilities. His mother´s voice, from somewhere: If you don´t try, you don´t get.
After leaving Enid in the study room with the first paper, English, and Mr and Mrs Graves next door with the wireless and a pot of tea, Mr Dedalus makes his way downstairs to the Main Hall. He´s been thinking of who he needs to ask for help and quickly identifies his preferred candidates on the way. He needs former members of The Magistrate, the school´s prefect body, that´s for sure. Only they would be conversant in the matters he needed them to deal with.
The first person he approaches is a chubby youngster in a school cap who´s playing marbles with two other boys near the fireplace. These grey-toned figures are strangely ghostly and Mr Dedalus feels a pinch of apprehension as he clears his throat. Well, here goes. “Mr Bunter?”
The plump boy looks up. “That´s me, sir.”
“You´re wanted in the Library.”
“Don´t be insolent, boy, or I´ll confiscate those marbles and you´ll never see them again.”
Mr Dedalus frowns as Bunter walks away, knees rubbing, and makes for the Library. Behind his eyepatch the headmaster is content. This just might work.
Two floors up, looking out over the bright gardens to the far-off hills, Enid takes a deep breath and writes out the date in fresh blue ink. She opens the paper and reads:
William Shakespeare has the following inscription on his tomb:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
Discuss the importance of the supernatural in Shakespeare´s work and why you think Shakespeare might or might not have been serious in penning this warning.
Enid scoffs. What a stupid question!
She´s read some Shakespeare plays, listened to them on the radio, too, but she has no great love for any of them, or the writer himself. Her hunch is that people say they like Shakespeare to seem clever. He might say clever things but you need a translator to understand them and what´s the point of that? Why not just read things from nowadays if you have to read at all?
But she begins to answer, in the way that she knows she must until a growing force within her seems to compel her to put down the pen and push away the ink pot. Why are you being so pathetic when you know you have The Power? the inner voice asks. You are The One. You have proven it. You have come home. You do not need to answer questions such as these.
Unfolding the old piece of paper from her pocket, Enid smooths it out on the desk and writes, in bold, flowing letters:
I go to Shakespeare´s tomb and give his bones a good shake. With a spear.
And then, satisfied, chuckling at her wit, she sits back and rocks on the chair´s hind legs.
On the wall in front of her is a painting. It is very bad, awfully ugly, and seems to depict a small boat on a rough sea. The skiff is dark and indistinct. The waves are bruised and the ocean looks uninviting. It´s all very amateurish and over-dramatic but it gives Enid an idea.
The boat in the painting begins to come in to shore, she writes.
She blots the paper and leans back again on the two legs of her chair. She waits, bites her nails, looks out of the window and picks her nose. She rocks back and forth. She perceives no movement in the ugly picture and doubt begins to set in. Perhaps the magic only works when there is a storm? Perhaps there is no magic?
Enid becomes frightened that if she doesn´t do the exam she might have to leave St Francis´ and go back to London with the Graves´. This she definitely doesn’t want to do. She doesn´t even want to think about what is back there. This is where she wants to be, at any cost. Even if it means doing an exam.
For the next hour she writes.
When Mr Graves opens the door to tell her the time is up, she blinks: it´s as though she has been in a dream.
“Come along now, Enid. Bring the paper here. Have a glass of milk with us next door and then you´ll go onto the maths.”
Enid nods and yawns. It has been so very quiet, she thinks. With no trees for them to rest in, the birds have gone from the school grounds. Enid doesn´t know whether to be happy or sad about this. Sometimes birds make such a terrible racket, especially the small ones.
“Going to snow I shouldn´t wonder,” says Mr Graves, bending down to look out of the window.
“I don´t mind.”
“You don´t have to drive, missy.”
“I don´t want to go.”
“Gather up your pens and papers, come on. Don´t leave anything, there´s a good girl.” Mr Graves walks back to the door. For each footstep the old floorboards groan and creak.
Enid bends over the desk to collect her things. Just before she turns to go she happens to look up at the awful painting and notices the boat has moved in towards the shore.
The vessel is more distinct now it is closer. And there is a figure on the prow, dark and shadowy.
She scribbles, quickly:
The man in the boat comes to take Mr and Mrs Graves.
Mr Dedalus stands in front of the weird collection of pupils and masters he´s summoned to the Library and calls for silence. “Please, all of you. Quiet, if you will.”
They form a grey mass in front of him. Some have already picked up the books and manuscripts lying around, half-broken, on their spines, from the floor. Others are beginning to restock the shelves or mop and sweep the boards. Mr Dedalus is moved to see his chosen few are taking care of the books, but then he knew they would, knowing how they were when they were pupils, teachers and staff at the school.
“This morning I call on each and every one of you to help me in a very delicate task,” he tells them. “Last night there was a great storm, one of the worst storms to hit this area of the country in many a long year. As you can all see, the storm has caused a great deal of damage to our precious Library, and indeed to The Book.”
The mention of The Book is enough to cause a respectful silence to fall upon those gathered in front of Mr Dedalus and his dais.
“As of now, my friends, I´m not quite sure as to the extent of the damage; indeed, I am hoping each and every one of you here today might be able to help me answer that question. I´m sure I do not need to impress on you the great importance of this task, and I thank you now for your co-operation in assisting me.”
“Is there a Writer, Mr Dedalus?” comes a voice. A Writer, as all of them know, is someone whose words, when written in The Book, become fact. Speaking generally, in each generation of pupils at the school there is one Writer who is allowed, from time to time, on controlled occasions, to write in The Book. It may be a pupil or it may be a member of staff.
“I think there is,” Mr Dedalus replies.
“You either know or you don´t,” comes a rather stinging heckle.
The previously benevolent group has now become a crowd, meshed together, too polite to be a mob, but hiding each other, acting as one, like a school of fish imitating a larger animal. It is hard for the headmaster to catch anyone´s eye. The most passive hide, but make the group stronger by numbers; the most aggressive stand taller and take advantage of the mass by speaking on behalf of everyone.
“The fact that you are here,” the headmaster replies, careful to control his voice, “leads me to believe that there is a Writer.”
“How´s that then?”
Mr Dedalus leans down and picks up one of the school photographs he has taken from the walls. The rest are leaning against the skirting board behind him. “Some of you have come from this photograph,” he tells them. “Some from others. But all of you are here because, I believe, someone – a Writer, yes – has written it so.”
“Then it´s not one of us?”
The grey mass seems to break apart into individuals again. They had worried it was them against Mr Dedalus but now they seem to know it is the headmaster and them against whoever it is who has conjured them here.
“I believe not.”
“You, maybe?” asks a lone voice; the last rebel. “You are alone here at the school, aren´t you? Maybe you wrote it?”
“How do you know I am alone here?” Perhaps his eyes are failing him but Mr Dedalus can see many faces but no speaker. He scans the heads.
“I see you from inside the pictures,” answers the voice, somewhat sadly. It is a neutral voice, neither male nor female. “From inside the frame I see everything that goes on. I shouldn´t be able to, should I?”
Mr Dedalus holds his hands up and calls for quiet. “I do not have The Power,” he tells them. “I did not write this.”
A woman´s voice, older, impatient: “Then what can we do to help?”
“I need you to organise the Library. To guard the doors. I need you to see which pages are missing from The Book. To guard The Book. To see, in any of those volumes of school history over there, if there is any precedent for this type of thing happening at St Francis´ and, if so, what we should do about it.”
There follows a long silence. But then, one by one, the grey voices answer.
“I´ll stack the shelves…”
“I´ll check the histories…”
“Pass that mop, will you?”
Mr Dedalus breathes a lengthy sigh of relief. He walks back through the Main Hall and, trying his best to ignore the familiar faces wanting to speak to him, strides upstairs.
In the Common Room he finds the wireless on, the room rather dingy with smoke, and Mr and Mrs Graves´ suitcases on the rug.
Next door he raps gently and cracks the door. Enid is sitting at the table by the window, leaning over to write, and she turns now and looks at him with a macabre smile which curdles his blood. Mr Dedalus realises with a flash that Enid has The Power and it is she who has been writing but he cannot conceive of how and so steadies himself and pretends that nothing is the matter. “Have you finished, my dear?”
“Yes!” replies Enid, flourishing the ink-bombed answer paper.
Mr Dedalus crosses the room but doesn´t notice Enid hiding the old piece of paper in her skirts. He takes the sheets and his eye is caught by the scene from the window. Such desolation. Devastation. High in the sky, very pallid, like a fading white print on the blueness, he glimpses your eye. “And your parents?”
“They are not my parents.”
Enid´s eyes flicker up to the wall but when the headmaster follows her glance he sees only a bad picture of a boat with three figures in it. One is very calm, perhaps rowing, while the other two have their silhouetted hands in the air as though screaming. It is a terrible picture, no doubt left by one of the girls, or put up by the housemistress to cover a hole or a crack in the wall.
“Are all those strange people still downstairs?”
Mr Dedalus looks at Enid and she seems inhuman. The girl is standing in the middle of the room in a shaft of bright sunlight and has waxy skin, like a doll´s, and her eyes do not reflect the light at all. They are black and instead of twinkling: they seem to suck the sunlight in. He feels his scalp shrink and knows he is in the presence of something evil.
“Yes, they are.”
“They´re old pupils and teachers, aren´t they?”
“Yes, they are.” The headmaster sees Enid for who she is; for what is inside her, and for a moment it is as if they are alone in the room, as if the room doesn´t exist. “You made them come here, didn´t you?”
“You know, I really must warn you, young lady…”
“No! I must warn you.” Enid points at him and Mr Dedalus is rooted to the spot. “I have The Power now.”
“But you do not understand what power you have.”
“I am The One,” the little girl answers. “Whatever I write comes true.”
“Not always,” replies Mr Dedalus, although he is uncomfortable with Enid´s poise and arrogance. There is something older and deeper than a young girl dwelling inside the body he can see, he knows. He remembers the look in Mr and Mrs Graves´ eyes. The story of Enid being found walking about in the flames after a bombing raid. There is fire within her. “What have you done with Mr and Mrs Graves?”
“They´ve gone on a little trip,” replies Enid, laughing.
Mr Dedalus looks up at the painting and recognises the figures in the boat. The two with their hands in the air are undoubtedly the Graves´. “Oh, what have you done, you evil little thing?”
“How dare you!”
“Stay back or you are next!”
As though warning him, Enid taps her skirts, where the concealed pocket is, and the headmaster is immediately aware of what weapon lies there. No doubt there is a page from The Book. Now everything makes sense. “Stay away from me, old man.”
“I am not afraid of you. You must know that.”
“Oh but you should be.” Enid laughs. She walks to the door, seems to consider what to do for a moment and then takes the folded paper from her pocket. She tears it carefully, almost in half, and throws one part onto the floorboards between them. “Happy reading!”
When she is gone, Mr Dedalus walks across and reads what is written on the paper. In Enid´s young girl´s handwriting, it says:
All of the people in the photographs in the entrance hall come alive.
I want to be the Head Girl here at St Francis´s school.
I want to stay here.
I go to Shakespeare´s tomb and give his bones a good shake. With a spear.
The boat in the painting begins to come in to shore.
The man in the boat comes to take Mr and Mrs Graves.
Mr Dedalus does what I want or will die immediately.
Mr Dedalus bursts into the Library but before he can speak he utters a little cry of joy at what they´ve done to the room. The shelves are stacked, the great volumes of school history have been put back in place and there is an air of calmness and continuity which was missing before.
“Only one page torn out, sir,” reports an old boy, holding up a leather-bound tome. It is The Book. “It was blown from its place by the wind and we think, after examining the imprints on the pages just before and after it, that whoever was in the room stepped on it. Perhaps they tore the page out that way, but whatever happened, it was only the one.”
“I know who it was,” Mr Dedalus replies seriously.
“The footprint suggests a pupil. A child.”
“That would make sense.”
“Shall I replace the book, then, sir?”
“First tear out another page.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Tear out one more page.” The headmaster looks across at the first librarian he ever remembered knowing, when he had come to the school as a young master. “Mrs Murdoch,” he says. “If you´d be so kind, I would like to look up the school´s founding principles, as enshrined in The Book but earlier codified by the first meeting of the Magistrate, I believe.”
Mrs Murdoch responds to the gravity of the situation with a slight flicker of her eyes but quickly nods her thick head of hair. “Right away, headmaster.”
The old boy steps forwards. “Here is the blank page, Mr Dedalus.”
The headmaster takes the thick, crisp sheet and stares at it for a moment. He has never had a genuine page from The Book in his hand, never even felt the paper. Very solemnly he asks who in the room has, or has ever had, The Power. “Those of you who were Writers in your time here, please identity yourselves now.”
Three hands rise.
“Take one step forwards, please,” he tells them.
There are two females and a male. All are pupils. The boy is very young, perhaps seven, and has a sickly look. Mr Dedalus can´t place him and although he should know it, he cannot recall the boy´s name. “Ricketts?” he tries, hopefully.
“Dickens,” the boy answers, in a small, squeaky voice. “Oliver Dickens.”
“Of course. Very well, Oliver Dickens, I will ask you first. Are you prepared to write on this page that all of you should return from whence you came?”
“To the pick-chas, sir?” asks the boy. His nose his running.
“Correct.” Mr Dedalus is aware that there is a murmur going about the room. The others now know what is going on, what the headmaster´s plan is, and some are not happy. “You should not be here,” the headmaster states in a loud, clear voice. “You have been made to come here by means foul and you must return to where you should be. Just as you felt no pain in coming here, so you shall feel no pain in returning.”
“I don´t want to, sir,” the small boy says. He wipes his nose with his sleeve.
“Be that as it may,” the headmaster replies. “But we all have things to do that we don´t want to in this life. In this instance you shall have to trust that I know best. And believe me, I do.”
“Can I go back with them?”
“Very well.” Mr Dedalus turns to the next oldest, a young girl with ringlets and freckles but she barely catches his eye before shaking her head and stepping back into the crowd.
“The statutes you asked for, headmaster,” says Mrs Murdoch, holding up what looks like a ledger. Mr Dedalus squints with his good eye and traces the list of rules with his finger until he finds what he´s looking for.
“A full moon last night, wasn´t it, Mrs Murdoch?”
“Twas indeed, sir.”
“But not tonight?”
“Not tonight, Mr Dedalus.”
“Thank you, Mrs Murdoch.”
“You´re very welcome, sir.”
“No, please don´t go. I have one more task for you.”
“Please take The Book and hide it somewhere in this room. Choose anyone you want to help, but do it quickly and do it now.”
“Hide The Book, sir?”
“That´s right. Here or in the tunnels. Wherever you like.”
“Very well, sir.”
Mr Dedalus points at the last young lady waiting in the file. She is about seventeen. “Miss Austen, isn´t it?”
“Come along with me, please.”
The headmaster leads the girl into one of the corners of the room so that he can’t see what is going on behind themselves. He sits them both down, presses the sheet of old paper flat, and says: “Are you willing to write what I tell you?”
“I am,” comes the reply. “I believe it is the right thing to do.”
“Very well. Then as soon as Mrs Murdoch gives me the signal, you will write what I tell you to write.”
And so Mr Dedalus bows his head and waits. He can hear splintering wood and the squealing of bookshelves and is calm: the longer this procedure goes on, he thinks, the better.
Finally he hears footsteps and Mrs Murdoch´s voice. “We are ready, headmaster.”
“Very well,” he says. He passes the pen to the young girl. “Now you will write what I tell you to write.”
“Yes, sir,” replies Miss Austen.
Enid blinks and is suddenly alone.
What? Where is everyone?
She is in the Main Hall and the sound of silence is deafening. She can still smell the perfume of the girl she was standing next to, and the laughter at the joke the Humanities Master was telling echoes around the panelled walls like a Chinese whisper. A lone marble rolls out from the empty fireplace and comes to settle by her feet.
She hears a door squeak. Footsteps. A shadow. Presently Mr Dedalus appears at the head of the corridor.
“What did you do with them?” Enid shouts impetuously, pointing her finger at the headmaster. “What did you do with all these people that were here, talking to me?”
“I don´t know.”
“Bring them back! How dare you take them away?”
“Who?” Mr Dedalus shrugs his shoulders and turns to look at the school photographs on the wall behind him. He catches the eye of young Miss Austen and whispers a silent prayer of gratitude to her. “Do you mean these people?”
“Oh! I´ll show you!” Enid runs to the staircase. “I warned you, you horrible old fool! I warned you what would happen if you crossed me!”
Enid runs upstairs and Mr Dedalus wanders over to the front door and unbolts it. It is twilight outside, snow falling gently from the bruised sky. He walks out of the stone arch doorway and crunches out onto the gravel path. I should have got them to clean some of this mess up before I sent them back, he thinks, looking at the bracken and branches lying about the pathway and lawns. But perhaps the snow will cover everything. Snow always makes everything look pretty.
It becomes night as he circumnavigates the old building and wanders about the school grounds. For most of the time he simply enjoys the walk and the snow. Sometimes he puts his hand out and lets a snowflake land upon his palm. They fizzle and melt and he thinks: Are all snowflakes really different? Can we know that for sure, or do we just take it for granted? Surely there´s always a chance that two might form exactly the same?
He walks past the freezing-over pond and stands at the edge of the playing fields. Looking up over the whitening hills he sees you staring back at him. Your eye is no longer wide and bright, but shadowed slightly in the corner, as though closing. Mr Dedalus salutes you and hopes in his heart of hearts that what the first school-masters and pupils wrote in the statues will be proven right.
A terrifying, blood-curdling scream from a window high up in the old building behind him brings a broad smile to his face.
Yes. It appears so.
Dedalus DIES NOW
Dedalus dies painfully
Dedalus drowns in the pool
Dedalus has heart attack
The people come out of the picture again
The people come and talk to me
I can fly
I am all powerful
But there he is, Mr Dedalus, in the doorway.
Enid screams. She backs up, yelling and spitting like a cornered rat but the headmaster does not flinch. He shows no sign of emotion. His eye is unblinking. “How do you know I am not a ghost?” he asks, his voice level and controlled. The young girl´s eyes flicker with hope.
I cannot see ghosts, she scrawls quickly. She is running out of space, of paper.
“What are you afraid of, Enid? You will be Head Girl here at St Francis´ soon enough. That part of what you have written will be honoured.”
“What?” She wants to disbelieve him but she also wants to know. “Why?”
“Because you wrote that part before you made your mistake.”
“What mistake?” Enid stands up and wants to approach the headmaster but without her magic she feels weak. She manages to make it across the rug but stops close to him, shaking her head, trying to appear confident. “What mistake?”
“In this school we respect writers,” Mr Dedalus replies. In his mind he is like his young self: back then he could stop anyone. He can see the demons in the girl retreating, can see the young creature for what she is. For once she looks her age.
Enid is thinking. “Do you mean what I wrote about Shakespeare?” she asks, aghast. “That? Really?”
“An affront to the man and his beliefs and a violation of everything we stand for at St Francis´.”
“Pah!” Enid throws up her hands. “That´s ridiculous.”
Mr Dedalus watches as the girl walks back to the table. She puts both hands on the papers there and suddenly her shoulders began to heave and there follows the sound of long, hard, childish sobs. Enid falls to her knees and cries like the little girl she is.
He walks over to comfort her and notices Mr and Mrs Graves sitting in their chairs looking vaguely shocked and disorientated. They leave for London shortly afterwards.
Later that night Mr Dedalus walks a small, broken, timid Enid to her new dormitory, the one where she would sleep that term, leading the way with a flickering candle. The storm had put the power lines down. “This is it,” he says, turning the handle. “Perhaps it would be better if you stay in your bed tonight.”
Enid nods. She has been silent throughout dinner. Mr Dedalus lights her lamp with the dripping wick and leaves her in peace. He wanders upstairs to the garret in a dancing vermillion orb.
Enid can´t sleep.
She gets up and looks into the lamplight but her eyes are tired. She is tired. She goes over to the window and pulls the curtains. It is snowing heavily and settling and the world glows. She looks at the dark, hardening surface of the pond and thinks: the fish will hibernate. She has read this. And she walks back to bed thinking, I too will hibernate. When I wake up everything will be white and new.
On the side-table there is an old battered volume whose title has been worn away by its readers. Enid opens it and sees with disgust that is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. For a moment she wants to fling the book onto the floor but then, a drop of humanity emanating from the cracks in her hard shell, she leans back on the pillow, props herself up and opens the book.
“Very well, I am sorry,” she declares in a small, broken voice. She opens the book at random and sees:
Ambition´s debt is paid.
Enid reads the words in her own voice and stares at the page until the words disappear. With surprise she realises she is tired. Acknowledging that she has lost the battle takes the bitterness and sting out of the business and she lies the book down carefully, blows out the lamp and thinks: I like it here.
From her bed she can see the snow falling and, sometimes, she can see your face, your own eyelids slowly closing.
It´s me, James.
You have just read the story of young Enid Waters. I hoped you liked it.
Enid does indeed become Head Girl at St Francis´ School and, by the time described in the first book in the series, The Invisible Hand, she is the headmistress there.
The Invisible Hand is a story about a boy, Sam, who has just started life at St Francis´ and finds himself able to travel back in time to medieval Scotland. There he meets a girl, Leana, who can travel to the future, and the two of them become wrapped up in events in Macbeth, the Shakespeare play, and in the daily life of the school.
The book is the first part of a series called Shakespeare´s Moon. Each book is set in the same boarding school but focuses on a different Shakespeare play.
The Invisible Hand will be published by Lodestar Book on 24th February, 2017. It is now available for [+ pre-order on Amazon+] and at all good outlets.
If you are on [+ Good Reads mark it as a book you want to read.+]
Follow me on Twitter, at @jameshartleybks.
Remember, for another FREE, exclusive Shakespeare´s Moon short story called Delirium, go to my website and subscribe to my mailing list.
Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you soon!
This creepy winter story is about a young girl, Enid Waters, who arrives at St Francis´ School in the middle of a violent storm. Welcomed by the headmaster, Enid soon finds that the school in the middle of nowhere contains eerie, powerful forces. Instead of feeling afraid, the young girl feels at home for the first time in her life. And so does the magic which resides in the old buildings. Heart of Winter is a short story which introduces you to the world of St Francis´ School, scene of an upcoming series of Young Adult Books by James Hartley. It forms the prequel to The Invisible Hand, a novel due to be published by Lodestar Books in February 2017. This disquieting, gothic tale is for readers who have a taste for the macabre. Look closely at the School in the cover. Do you see yourself there? Or Enid, perhaps? Waiting for you...