Friday 29 July 2011

Friday Flash - The Charterhouse Bullies

Edward stood in the shadows inside the door. His new classmates ran around the yard. They played in small groups, chasing hoops and tossing balls. He watched, too nervous to approach. Morning classes provided few opportunities to make friends, but the full yard was too daunting.

“Well, well, well! What do we have ‘ere?”

Edward turned around to face a much larger boy. His blazer strained across his bulk, and acne peppered his pale skin. A mop of orange hair tumbled around his lumpy ears. The boy planted a squat hand on Edward’s shoulder and steered him into the yard.

The games in the yard stopped. All eyes fell on Edward. He gulped at the sudden attention. A small blond boy to his right caught his eye. An ugly bruise coloured his cheekbone purple and blue. A pleading look haunted his eyes as he mouthed the word, “Run”.

Other large boys peeled away from groups scattered across the yard. They formed a loose cordon around Edward and his guard. Edward sensed the other boys forming a wider ring. They struggled to see. Edward’s hands shook, and a bead of ice cold sweat trickled down his forehead. It made his eye sting.

“You’re the new boy, aren’t you?”

The tallest boy looked down at him. Greasy black hair fell over his forehead into his dull grey eyes. The ghost of a scar twisted his face into a snarl.

“Yes, sir,” replied Edward.

“He calls me sir!” said the older boy. He brayed, and the other boys added their own uneasy laughter to the chorus. The black-haired boy clapped his approval.

“You know your place. I like that. I can see that we’re going to get along famously. But you can call me Simmers.”

The laughter died away. Silence descended on the yard, Edward felt time slow to a crawl. He thought of his father, fighting the armies of Napoleon in the killing fields of northern Spain. If Papa could be brave, so could he.

“Do you know where you are?” asked Simmers.

“Ch-Ch-Charterhouse School,” replied Edward.

“That’s right. But do you know what was here before the school?”

Edward shook his head. The district of Clerkenwell confused him. London was too big to take in at once.

“Didn’t reckon you would know, you being new, but that’s alright. I’m here to tell you. This place was built on a plague pit. You know what they are?”

Edward nodded.

“Of course you do. Everyone knows about plague pits. Only this one was especially despicable. They didn’t always wait for you to die before they threw you in.”

Edward stared at the older boy. He didn’t want to believe him, but truth lay in the lines of his ugly face. Sadness gripped his heart. His father’s tales of human cruelty echoed in his ears.

Two of the boys grabbed Edward’s arms and forced him to the ground. Simmers pressed his head down, his right ear against the cold cobbles of the yard. He heard nothing except the silence of the watching boys. He wondered if the teachers could see. Would they care, even if they did see?

“Can you hear them? The cries of the ones they buried alive?”

Edward tried not to listen, his ears filled with pounding of blood. A cloud parted in the darkness, and a muffled sob reached through the veil of years. A sob, a wail, a plaintive plea. Edward gasped, but his lungs refused to breathe in. More cries, howls, and weeping added to the lament of the dead. They called his name, asking for help. They begged to be free.

Edward yelped and struggled, forcing himself up. Simmers fell back, his eyes wide. The two captors released his arms. Air rushed into Edward’s lungs and a scream bubbled up in his throat. Terror forced the cry loose. The boys backed away in the face of naked despair.

Edward still howled when his geography master dragged him inside, away from the alarmed stares of the boys. He only fell silent an hour later through exhaustion. He passed out in the headmaster’s office and his mother came for him twenty minutes later. She cradled her unconscious son on the way home.

The headmaster hauled the small blond boy into his office. The boy answered his questions about the Newcomer’s Ordeal. The headmaster asked to see Simmers. The black-haired boy expressed admiration that Edward survived his ordeal, but sorrow that he would never forget those eternal cries.

Edward never returned to the Charterhouse School.


Helen A. Howell said...

Ooh that's is icy cold, creepy and sad all rolled into one. Those poor souls and Edward sensitive enough to hear them. I bet Simmers never heard them, bullies never get past the surface of things.

Another good one Icy! :)


Linda said...

This takes bullying to a whole new level. Poor Edward. And one reason my kiddos go to public schools ;^) Peace...

Stephen said...

I imagine the cries of a thousand buried souls would haunt me like it did poor Edward. Too bad for him. What goes around comes around, though. One day, Simmers will receive his share of justice served.

Jen said...

So these awful kids aren't even the bullies. Chilling thought. I wonder what he's going to grow up like, after this? Yikes. Nicely disturbed, Icy.

Tony Noland said...

As if the horrors of the living world weren't enough. Creepy, Icy.

Emilia Quill said...

I thought the bullies were going to bury poor Edward in a pit, but this was much scarier.

Larry Kollar said...

I hope Stephen's right… and I suspect Simmers will have nightmares himself after that.

Great job, turning a "routine" bullying into something so much darker…

Anonymous said...

Creepy. That's a new low for bullies, deliberately making him hear that.

Steve Green said...

Good story Icy. History, horror and realism.

Many people carry the effects of bullying for the rest of their lives, let's hope that Simmers meets his own Simmers somewhere along the way.

Anonymous said...

You do historical pieces with a macabre twist so very very well. It seems so effortless. Remarkable.
Adam B @revhappiness

Joz Varlo said...

Gruesome & sad, too. Poor Edward.

Jason Coggins said...

I love it when you walk the ancient streets of London holding Alan Moore's hand. This is a magnificently melancholy flash Icy ... both for the social commentary and its spooky stuff.

nerinedorman said...


Unknown said...

I love the contrasts between the horrors of war, the horrors of the plague pit, and the horrors of the bullies.

KjM said...

I see a lot of nightmares in Edward's future. Simmers needs to spend time learning what can happen to bullies - though, sadly, it's unlikely at that school.

Excellent and chilly writing.

Anonymous said...

Human fraility and human cruelty was conveyed so well in this piece. Edward being beat up and forced to listen, then his actually being able to hear the wails of the almsot dead. To bad the bullies means of scaring their victims didn't turn back around on them. Although, I have a feeling this moment has built up a motivation or path for Edward's future.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Just when I thought I knew where you were going with this you took us to a far creepier place.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Thank you everyone for your lovely comments - I've only just got back after a weekend away but I'll be catching up on stories this week.

Unknown said...

Well done. I liked how I felt there were a number of avenues to take this story, and you choose one that would have been very hard to predict, yet in the end, it fit neatly into the story. That's hard to do.

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

Poor child.

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy -- neat story with a zesty period twist. Really liked the fact that the dead were real and vocal. Loved those lumpy ears... and mouthing 'run'...

Ah, reminds me of the good old days, running for my life on the playground.


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