John Fish B.Sc.Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)
ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY GATED by Matt Drabble
ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY
e-mail: Matt Drabble
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Gated by Matt Drabble
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Synopsis Michael and Emily Torrance are a British couple. He is a writer of horror fiction, she is a teacher. Their life are happy and fulfilled, Emily is pregnant, but one stormy night she is struck by a car in a hit and run accident and loses the baby. To overcome their loss they are seduced by an email advert for a gated community in the US, called “Eden Gardens”, which promises “Heaven on Earth and Twice as Nice”. They take the plunge and move to Eden. Michael holds himself responsible for the accident that led to the miscarriage, but Emily does not. They settle into their new perfect life in a perfect town and community. Eden is run by the town manager Casper Christian. The Christian family founded the town hundreds of years ago, under the supervision and vision of Tolan Christian. We have three interludes telling the story of Tolan. His father was abusive and his mother deeply religious. After a brutal attack from his father, his mother murders his father and they flee. His mother’s religious beliefs become fanatical. The town seems to revolve around the large forest that engulfs them and the annual festival is very important to the town. Michael begins to toy with the idea of writing a horror novel based on the town being secretly evil underneath the perfection, Emily is mortified by the idea, but Michael pursues it secretly. Emily starts work at the local elementary school and bonds with Sarah-Jane a fellow teacher, but doesn’t take to the Headmistress Mrs Thirlby. We learn that someone is spraying graffiti reading “Wake Up” all over town. Even as they move into Eden, a college boy hired to return their rental car is mysteriously murdered in secret and unknown to our protagonists. We meet the local Sherriff, a huge bear of a man and a deeply suspicious character. College boy’s mother is driven off the road during her search for her missing son. Michael and Emily are blissfully happy and decide to try for a baby again. She falls pregnant and they are both a little concerned over the town’s interest in the pregnancy. Various other characters are met and then killed or disappear in secret and unknown to the public at large. All of these characters either have personality flaws or are engaging in serious to minor acts of criminality. We meet a local teenager Thom, who bonds with Michael, and Michael begins to see the teen as the son who could have been, before the hit and run accident that cost them their baby back in the UK. We meet the new local doctor, Samuel Creed, who bonds with the Torrance’s, and becomes the shy Sarah-Jane’s love interest. Michael begins to become suspicious. Emily dismisses his concerns at first, but she then finds a hidden diary of the woman who had the job at the school before her, and lived in the same house before her, and fell pregnant. Emily, Michael, Sarah-Jane, Thom, and Samuel, begin to investigate the town. Emily becomes very suspicious of the Headmistress’ role in the disappearance of the previous missing teacher. Michael and Thom discover the extent of accidental deaths and disappearances in the town archives. Samuel is killed by an unknown assailant during his investigations of the town medical records. Emily finds that the Headmistress is trying to help the town and is responsible for the graffiti. Emily is then betrayed by her best friend Sarah-Jane who murders the Headmistress and kidnaps Emily. Michael is framed for a murder and arrested by the sheriff who then attempts to inflict a “suicide” on Michael. Michael escapes with the help of Thom and a helping Casper Christian in tow. Casper blames the murders on the Sheriff who has taken the protection of Eden too far. The tree of them race to rescue Emily who is being held on the town square in the midst of the festival, only to be betrayed by Casper. Sarah-Jane is revealed to have killed Samuel under Casper’s influence, but she was not entirely responsible. We learn that the town’s un-natural success, perfect weather, long life of residents and financially thriving, is all down to the practice of sacrifices to the woodland forest and that the pregnant Emily is perfect for sacrifice. We also learn that Casper is in fact Tolan and several hundred years old. Thom deduces that all of Eden and Tolan’s power is derived from the forest and the timber that has built the town. He rescues Michael and Emily by staring a blaze that engulfs the town. Michael is forced to murder their way to safety, including Tolan/Casper with the help of a broken hearted Sarah-Jane as she realises that she has murdered her one true chance of love. When the authorities finally reach Eden, in the aftermath they discover that not all of the town has been destroyed. The fire seems to have been selective in what it ate; only the guilty and complicit were punished. Many of the townsfolk were innocent completely and some carried out acts under the influence of Tolan, including Sarah-Jane, and must now rebuild their town and come to terms with their actions. Epilogue: A young couple receive an unsolicited email advertising a new gated community town called “Serenity Falls” which promises “Heaven on Earth and Twice as Nice”. Sample Chapter
Michael and Emily Torrance are a British couple. He is a writer of horror fiction, she is a teacher. Their life are happy and fulfilled, Emily is pregnant, but one stormy night she is struck by a car in a hit and run accident and loses the baby.
To overcome their loss they are seduced by an email advert for a gated community in the US, called “Eden Gardens”, which promises “Heaven on Earth and Twice as Nice”.
They take the plunge and move to Eden. Michael holds himself responsible for the accident that led to the miscarriage, but Emily does not.
They settle into their new perfect life in a perfect town and community. Eden is run by the town manager Casper Christian. The Christian family founded the town hundreds of years ago, under the supervision and vision of Tolan Christian. We have three interludes telling the story of Tolan. His father was abusive and his mother deeply religious. After a brutal attack from his father, his mother murders his father and they flee. His mother’s religious beliefs become fanatical.
The town seems to revolve around the large forest that engulfs them and the annual festival is very important to the town.
Michael begins to toy with the idea of writing a horror novel based on the town being secretly evil underneath the perfection, Emily is mortified by the idea, but Michael pursues it secretly. Emily starts work at the local elementary school and bonds with Sarah-Jane a fellow teacher, but doesn’t take to the Headmistress Mrs Thirlby.
We learn that someone is spraying graffiti reading “Wake Up” all over town.
Even as they move into Eden, a college boy hired to return their rental car is mysteriously murdered in secret and unknown to our protagonists.
We meet the local Sherriff, a huge bear of a man and a deeply suspicious character.
College boy’s mother is driven off the road during her search for her missing son.
Michael and Emily are blissfully happy and decide to try for a baby again. She falls pregnant and they are both a little concerned over the town’s interest in the pregnancy.
Various other characters are met and then killed or disappear in secret and unknown to the public at large. All of these characters either have personality flaws or are engaging in serious to minor acts of criminality.
We meet a local teenager Thom, who bonds with Michael, and Michael begins to see the teen as the son who could have been, before the hit and run accident that cost them their baby back in the UK.
We meet the new local doctor, Samuel Creed, who bonds with the Torrance’s, and becomes the shy Sarah-Jane’s love interest.
Michael begins to become suspicious. Emily dismisses his concerns at first, but she then finds a hidden diary of the woman who had the job at the school before her, and lived in the same house before her, and fell pregnant.
Emily, Michael, Sarah-Jane, Thom, and Samuel, begin to investigate the town. Emily becomes very suspicious of the Headmistress’ role in the disappearance of the previous missing teacher.
Michael and Thom discover the extent of accidental deaths and disappearances in the town archives. Samuel is killed by an unknown assailant during his investigations of the town medical records. Emily finds that the Headmistress is trying to help the town and is responsible for the graffiti. Emily is then betrayed by her best friend Sarah-Jane who murders the Headmistress and kidnaps Emily. Michael is framed for a murder and arrested by the sheriff who then attempts to inflict a “suicide” on Michael. Michael escapes with the help of Thom and a helping Casper Christian in tow. Casper blames the murders on the Sheriff who has taken the protection of Eden too far. The tree of them race to rescue Emily who is being held on the town square in the midst of the festival, only to be betrayed by Casper. Sarah-Jane is revealed to have killed Samuel under Casper’s influence, but she was not entirely responsible. We learn that the town’s un-natural success, perfect weather, long life of residents and financially thriving, is all down to the practice of sacrifices to the woodland forest and that the pregnant Emily is perfect for sacrifice. We also learn that Casper is in fact Tolan and several hundred years old. Thom deduces that all of Eden and Tolan’s power is derived from the forest and the timber that has built the town. He rescues Michael and Emily by staring a blaze that engulfs the town. Michael is forced to murder their way to safety, including Tolan/Casper with the help of a broken hearted Sarah-Jane as she realises that she has murdered her one true chance of love.
When the authorities finally reach Eden, in the aftermath they discover that not all of the town has been destroyed. The fire seems to have been selective in what it ate; only the guilty and complicit were punished. Many of the townsfolk were innocent completely and some carried out acts under the influence of Tolan, including Sarah-Jane, and must now rebuild their town and come to terms with their actions.
Epilogue: A young couple receive an unsolicited email advertising a new gated community town called “Serenity Falls” which promises “Heaven on Earth and Twice as Nice”.
Emily opened the diary and started to read, the day passed quickly around her as she quickly became engrossed in the scribbled contents.
SUNDAY 15th- the house is beautiful and the town is as well, Matthew keeps pinching me every time that I tell him, I can’t believe it’s all ours, he’s such a dork sometimes, but I love him just the same!
Emily read through the moving day thoughts, it was eerily reminiscent of her own first day in the house and their move in general, a time of wonder and nervous excitement. She skipped ahead through the pages, ignoring the growing heat, and the discomfort of her pregnancy temporarily forgotten, as she delved further.
MONDAY 23rd – first day dawning, as I write this Matty is showering, if I wasn’t so nervous I’d jump right in there with him ha, ha! School starts in a couple of hours, I walked past the building yesterday, looks nice, hope it is.
Just back home, school was good, kids are great, so much better behaved than back home, met SJ today, what a bundle, I’m exhausted just thinking about her! The new boss is a little strange though, seems a bit creepy!
Emily smiled to herself, it would appear that she and Jessica had more than a little in common, if she kept a diary herself, it would read very similar to this one. She scanned through several pages; it seemed very much the ordinary ramblings of a happy and contented woman settling into a new life. She was starting to grow a little bored with the diary now. When she’d pried the book loose from its secret hiding place, she’d been excited at the possibility of its contents. Now she found herself flipping through pages of picnics, gardening and house arranging, the humidity of the hot day was beginning to bother her again as her interest waned, suddenly a word leapt from the page in bold capitals.
MONDAY 27th- PREGNANT!!!!!!!
Emily found herself staring at the word, first the same house, then the same job and now a pregnancy thrown into the bargain, it all seemed a little too coincidental, but what it meant, she could not tell. She checked her watch absently, crap, she thought, she was running late for work, she jumped up as quickly as her enlarged frame could manage and waddled to the door. She suddenly paused, for some reason she felt compelled to return the diary to its secret resting place, she pushed the board down back into place as best she could and left.
“Who was it?” Sheriff Quinn demanded again, his voice rumbled low with menace and barely suppressed anger.
Deputy Kurt Stillson took a step back from the intimidation; the Sheriff was a huge man who seemed to enjoy his physical superiority over everyone in town. Kurt had just finished his written report into the graffiti vandalism and the escaped perpetrator, his head still rang from the thrown paint can. He wore a large plaster over the cut and a bandage over the swelling, he’d been popping Excedrin all morning, but they weren’t making much of a dent and Quinn’s yelling was only making it worse.
“I already told you sir” he tried again, “I couldn’t see a face, whoever it was, they were wearing black and had their face covered”
“You must have seen something for Christ’s sake!” Quinn yelled even louder, his face purple and bloated with rage.
“Jesus it was just a little paint, what’s the big deal” Kurt flapped his arms in frustration.
Quinn was on him in a flash, Kurt found himself lifted by the collar and thrust painfully back against the wall, his head banged backwards on the venetian blinds, his wounded head sang out joyfully. Quinn’s face was millimetres from his, the Sheriff’s eyes blazed with a venomous fury that bored deep and Kurt’s whole body was lifted with incredible effortless power.
“I’ll find out who did this you little shit, this is my town, my fucking town” Quinn spat in his face.
Kurt looked over the Sheriff’s massive shoulders and his knees went weak with relief. Tommy Ross, his fellow deputy stood in the office like a guardian angel, his voice brought Quinn back a little closer to his senses, and the strength weakened from his painful grip. Kurt found his feet flush on the floor again, and the Sheriff took a step backwards, the rage in his eyes ebbed away and returned to a state approaching normality. He smoothed out Kurt’s shirt where it had been rucked up and pulled free of his pants.
“Sorry about that Kurt” Quinn said, sounding vaguely apologetic, “We just care passionately about this town is all, zero tolerance means zero tolerance”
“S-S-Sure” Kurt stammered, “No problem” he was doubly grateful for Tommy’s intervention and Ellen’s absence from her office post this morning, he wasn’t eager for her to see him manhandled like a rag doll.
“We’ll get this bastard together, right boys? No-one is going to put a dampener on this year’s festival” Quinn proclaimed.
“Sure boss” Tommy answered, his voice a little unsure.
“Yeah right” Kurt followed, regaining some composure.
Kurt watched thankfully as the Sheriff eased his large frame out of the office and off duty, he looked at Tommy, and they both waited until the purr of Quinn’s car started up and pulled away.
“What the fuck was that Tommy?” Kurt asked somewhere between shock and anger.
“He just gets a little carried away with looking after the town Kurt, forget it”
“That’s easy for you to say pal, it wasn’t you that he just threw around the room, I thought he was going to kick the crap out of me”
“Ahh, don’t get carried away Kurt you big girl, he just grabbed you a little, that’s all, he wouldn’t have really hurt you”
“I’m not so sure, he looked pretty serious to me”
“Nah, just the same though, we ought to catch this new scourge of Eden, just to be on the safe side” Tommy teased, “You know, before we find you buried out back in a dumpster”
Emily left her lunch largely untouched as she poured through the diary, the teacher’s lounge faded into the background behind her as she read through the thoughts of Jessica Grady. The diary was thick and had begun in optimistic fashion, the writing was clear and concise with the neat strokes of an ordered mind. The Grady’s had moved to Eden and had been delighted with the hospitality shown to them. Jessica spoke in glowing terms about the town and the people. Jessica had been the woman who had come to Eden much as Emily had, she had worked at the school as a teacher the same as Emily, she had lived in the house before Emily, and she had fallen pregnant as had Emily. The similarities were staggering, and more than enough to make Emily feel a little uncomfortable. If she had read these facts in one of Michael’s novels, then she would have told him that the reader would immediately begin hoisting the red flag. She had read through the diary with increasing speed and was disturbed to find that Jessica was becoming more and more uneasy with her surroundings. Her writing was starting to unravel a little; the handwriting was growing scruffy and the spelling uneven. She skipped through long winded passages of abstract thoughts, searching for anything pertinent.
The lounge was empty this lunchtime, Sarah-Jane was glued to her cell phone talking in hushed tones to Dr Creed, their budding relationship was gathering at a deepening pace. SJ positively glowed whenever the subject came up in conversation, Emily had gently probed around the edges, but Sarah-Jane was charmingly coy at the very nature of their romance. Mrs Thirlby was on recess duty today, leaving Emily alone, for which she was grateful. It seemed that every time that she turned around, the Headmistress was staring at her with a strange expression. Emily knew that her emotions were a little out of whack lately due to the pregnancy, Dr Creed had assured her that it was all perfectly natural, but that didn’t make it any easier for her, or more so Michael, to live with. Travelling to work in the mornings on the tram had become an uncomfortable ordeal, she was sure that the gazes were all a little too intent, and she thought that she could see hidden whispers on every face. Eddie, the regular tram driver, always seemed to linger his eyes over her swelling figure with an almost ravenous glazed glare, the other regular passengers all seemed to covet her with envious, hungry eyes.
For the fourth time in the last ten minutes, she checked the corridor to make sure that she was alone, she felt a deep instinct to keep the diary hidden, whatever lay inside the scribbled pages were for her eyes only. Once she was sure that she was unobserved, she opened the book and continued reading, Jessica was becoming more paranoid, and Emily was uncomfortable at the similarities that she began to see in herself.
THURSDAY 6th – Thirlby is all over me at the minute, every time that I turn around she’s there, creepy-ass woman! School is becoming a real drag, just so damned tired all the time. Matty keeps nagging at me to go back to the doctors, but Dr Lempke seems as weird as the rest of them. You can’t swing a cat for hitting some concerned neighbour, need a holiday!!!
MONDAY 10th – Casper came to the house today, spoke to Matty for what seemed like ages, took him to aside so that I couldn’t hear, Matty said that it was nothing, but he seemed strange afterwards, wouldn’t talk about it.
FRIDAY 14th – Had a long talk with SJ today after school was out today, don’t what I would do without her, she’s my rock, feel like I can tell her anything and she won’t think I’m nuts!
Emily checked and reread, Sarah-Jane had told her that she did not know Jessica very well at all, and yet Jessica was calling her “her rock”, a little troubled, she read on.
SJ told me to be wary of Thirlby, I pressed her for details, but she just seemed scared of our boss, for one second I thought that she was going to tell me, but then Thirlby appeared like magic and SJ looked terrified. I always thought that Thirlby was a little creepy, but she scares the life out of poor SJ. What is it with this damned Woodland Festival, everyone is going nuts over it.
TUESDAY 18th – Matty dragged me to Dr Lempke this morning, I hate that guy, he’s always poking and prodding, doesn’t seem to care about me at all, he’s only ever interested in the baby. I’m starting to feel like a delivery truck where everyone only wants the package inside, Matty thinks I’m paranoid.
THURSDAY 21st – Darnell, the handyman, kept looking at me strangely today, he came by to clear some hornet nests out of the garage. I’m a little over three months along now and showing, the freak kept staring at my bump the whole time.
MONDAY 24th – I AM NOT GOING CRAZY Matty keeps telling me to go back to Dr Lempke, but I’m not letting them pump me full of anything else, the pills that he keeps giving me make me feel just tired and foggy all the time, he says that they’re only vitamins, but I don’t believe him, I don’t believe anyone at the minute.
SUNDAY 30th – SJ came by today, she said that she’s worried, but I could see it in her eyes, she’s one of them now, or maybe she always was, the whole town must be in on it. I told Matty that I’m leaving, with or without him. I have to get my baby away from here.
TUESDAY 2nd – Its Thirlby, I just know it, I caught her snooping around my bag at school. I’m sure that I’ve seen her following me around town, can’t think straight sometimes, but I’m sure that I keep seeing her face around town.
WEDNESDAY 3rd – They want my baby, they want my child, I can feel them waiting, I can feel their eyes everywhere. They’re all in it together, I can hear them whispering as I walk past. Matt wants to have me committed, I fear they’ve got him too, I fear they’ve got everyone. They dragged me out of the school today when I started freaking out, I know that Thirlby has something to do with all of this, I’ll get that bitch!!!
SATURDAY 7th – I can’t stay awake, someone must have slipped me something, my head doesn’t work too well, can’t think straight, sleep now, sleep.
Emily struggled to understand the writing as it slurred and scribbled incoherently as Jessica’s mind wandered.
SUNDAY 8th – Got To leave today, got to go now, got to escape, everyone will be at the Woodland Festival tonight, the whole town should be there, got to take this chance, it might be my only one.
The writing ended suddenly, Emily suddenly looked up from the book, she could feel her space being invaded, she spun around quickly from the sofa and looked up into the face of Sarah-Jane.
“What’s that you’re reading” SJ asked a little too casually, her eyes narrow and watchful.
Emily’s first thought was to hide the diary and deny its existence, a stab of fear shot through her guts at Sarah-Jane’s interest, she quickly scalded herself, this wasn’t Thirlby, this was her friend.
“Can ask you something SJ?” She said gently.
“Sure” Sarah-Jane smiled.
“How well did you know Jessica Grady?”
“I told you” Sarah-Jane said as she suddenly wouldn’t meet her gaze, “I didn’t know her at all”
Emily passed her the diary and watched as Sarah-Jane’s face fell and darkened with desperate unhappiness, SJ scanned through the pages quickly.
“Oh” she said sadly.
“Well?” Emily asked.
“Jess was a deeply troubled woman Em” Sarah-Jane’s words were slow and awkward; her normally pleasant and cheerful face was creased with concern. “After she got pregnant, she started going a bit…, a bit strange”
“How do you mean?”
“She started getting paranoid, she was convinced that the whole town was staring at her, she thought that everyone was talking about her, it was downright weird. Did you ever see the Truman Show movie with Jim Carey?”
“The one where he lives on a reality show, only he’s the only one who doesn’t know it?”
“Yeah, she started to think that the whole town revolved around her, like we were all standing and waiting for her to walk past before we’d move. It started to get pretty scary, she freaked at here at school one day, she thought that the kids were all robots with cameras for eyes. Mrs Thirlby had to call the Sheriff in and Jess was taken to the hospital kicking and screaming, the poor kids were terrified”
“Who’s Dr Lempke?”
“He was the doc here before Samuel” at the mention of Dr Creed’s name Sarah-Jane’s cheeks flushed a little in a way that Emily found endearing. “I think that Dr Lempke retired somewhere out near Maine, I think that he had a daughter out there”
“What about in the diary when Jessica says that you warned her about Thirlby, what did you mean?”
SJ leant in closer and lowered her voice, “Nothing sinister, only that Mrs Thirlby could be a bit of a cow sometimes, and Jess was starting to come into work later and later, I was worried that she might get fired”
Emily leant back into the sofa and processed, the impression that she got from the diary was of an increasingly disturbed woman. She was also concerned at her own somewhat paranoid feelings only this morning when travelling into work. She was also starting to feel that everyone was watching her in the same way that Jessica described. What did that mean? Was it a common side effect of the pregnancy? Was there something in the water in Eden? Or had Jessica had genuine cause for concern. She suddenly realised that it had been an age since she had spoken, and Sarah-Jane was staring at her with growing worry etched on her face.
“Emily?” SJ asked softly, “Are you ok?”
“Do you mean am I seeing my students replaced by camera eyed robots?” She had meant to speak lightly and with humour, but she didn’t feel that anything was funny here. “Don’t worry SJ, I’m fine, just a little tired”
“Maybe you should take it a little easier, I’m guessing being pregnant can’t be easy”
“You’ll find out soon enough”
“Emily!” Sarah-Jane said shocked but smiling shyly.
“Oh come on Sarah-Jane, you and the good doctor will be married before you know it” Emily teased, “And you’ll be squeezing out a classroom full of your own students before long”
Sarah-Jane turned embarrassedly and walked back towards her classroom, slowly gathering the children returning after lunch, “You’re terrible” she said to Emily as she walked, her face alight with the thought.
Emily stuffed the diary deep into her shoulder bag and hefted it onto her shoulder as she waddled slowly back to her own classroom. She stepped into the hallway outside the lounge and moved along the gloomy corridor. Suddenly she felt eyes upon her at the far end. Silhouetted in the shadows was the unmistakable form of Mrs Thirlby, Emily shuddered under the distant gaze of the Headmistress, her obscured features made her all the more intimidating. Emily had to walk several feet towards Thirlby, and she positively ran the last few paces towards her classroom and the noise within, she wrenched the door open and jumped into the sunny room.
The clock crawled by slowly, the hands moved almost backwards at times dragging the day interminably. Thom stared wistfully out of the window, the sun was bright and warm, and the day was passing him by.
Eden High school was home to the town's teens aged between 14 and 18, it was the sister school to the elementary school that was across town. The classroom held fifteen students, it was the limit in Eden, it also meant that there was never any hiding places. Back in LA Thom had been able to drift to the back of the class and fly under the radar. The teachers at his old school had only seemed pleased to get out of the building unscathed at the end of the day; education had come a distant second to self-preservation. Here in Eden however, it appeared to be deemed necessary for the educators to actually educate. Thom was an intelligent young man, he knew that he picked up subjects quickly and easily, and he had always performed on standardised tests with distinction. His attention problems seemed to derive from boredom, he could pick up the basics of any subject in a flash, but once his brain grasped the subject, then it would switch off and search for the next injection.
Thom looked up in surprise caught in his wanderings, Mr Stark, his biology teacher was staring at him awaiting a response, Thom had to actually stop and think in order to place the teacher and the subject.
“Sorry sir?” Was the only response that he could muster.
“Have you been listening at all Mr Bray?” The tone was more than a little condescending.
“Of course Mr Stark” Thom smiled.
“Well what?” Thom asked politely.
Mr Stark crossed his arms across his narrow chest, he was around fifty years old, balding with a retreating hairline that had long since abandoned the front lines. He wore a peppered white goatee and small round glasses. Stark favoured a wardrobe that had long since witnessed better days, consisting of several brown and tan checked jackets, and grey slacks.
He was the sort of teacher that Thom’s previous school would have eaten alive, but this was not LA, this was Eden. Thom glanced around the class at his colleagues; none were his friends. Since the move he had been unable to connect with any of the other students in school. His tastes and interests just didn’t seem to mesh with anyone else’s, where he had a voracious appetite for horror and metal, his fellow classmates seemed pasty faced replicated teenagers. The school didn’t actively dissuade him from his tastes, no one had ever dragged him aside to chastise him from his proclivities, he was just simply left on the outside of all circles. In his experience of life and movies, most schools had their various clicks and gangs, nerds, brains, jocks, Goths etc. But here everyone seemed content and happy. There were no divisions of race or colour, no segregation of the popular and not so. There seemed no in-house competition, as though Eden was all one team and they were all team players. In theory, it would seem an ideal environment, and Thom certainly did not miss the constant violent threat that his old school had possessed, but in reality it was just simply dull.
“The question was, what is cell theory”
“Oh right” Thom processed quickly and effortlessly, “Cell theory asserts that the cell is the constituent unit of living beings. Before the discovery of the cell, it was not recognized that living beings were made of building blocks like cells. The cell theory is one of the basic theories of Biology” he recited as he watched the clock ticked closer to 3pm.
“Very good Mr Bray” Mr Stark sounded as though he was struggling to gain the upper hand again, “You see what happens when you listen to me class” he announced, “Even Mr Bray here can learn a thing or two”
Thom’s smart mouth had often been his downfall, but the school bell rang loudly saving him from himself for once. The class trooped out in its usual slow and considerate fashion, not for the first time Thom thought of tripping up a classmate, or slapping the teacher, just to get an emotion even if it was anger. On the occasions that he had bumped into students in the halls regardless of the fact that he was the accidental aggressor, he was always apologised to. He had been scared taking the keys from his mother’s office, and then fearful sneaking around the suicide woman’s house. He had been terrified when he’d pushed open the bathroom door, only to then be painfully accosted by the giant Sheriff. As frightened as he’d been, at least it was a real emotion, his heart had pounded violently against his chest, but it was real. Since the move here, there had been a dearth of reality in his world, his mother floated through the day with a smile tattooed onto her face as did most of the town it would seem. The sky was always blue, and the sun always shone brightly, the only other person that he had met that seemed real to him, was the writer. He had spent the afternoon at Michael’s house; they had talked about books and movies all within the horror genre. Michael’s knowledge had been vastly superior to his own, and he had gone away with a mountain of research to pursue. For an old guy Michael was alright, his taste in music and horror reminded Thom enormously of his absent father. He did of course recognise this fact, and was aware of his own need for a figure to fill that void.
Thom moved along the hallway slowly, he didn’t have anywhere in particular to go this afternoon, Michael had told him to call by anytime, but he felt that he didn’t want to outstay his welcome already. The hallway was by now deserted, the long rows of metallic lockers were all clean and graffiti free. The floor squeaked and sparkled as his lonely footsteps echoed off the abandoned walls. Thom always carried a small notebook in his backpack, he used the book to jot down his own story ideas. His imagination often ran at dizzying speeds, and without a notebook, most would be lost to the ether. The dark hallway began the churning of tales within his mind, the gloom closed in around him, and he felt the telltale increase of his heart rate as he delved into the recesses. He started to see long slithering tentacles sliding their way around the lockers, the metal boxes buckling under the power of the deep. Great suckers opened and closed hungrily with rows of flesh shredding razor teeth, the monstrous arms snaked their way ever closer to his juicy bones, the school was empty, and no one would hear him scream in the dark. But the tentacles were only arms, somewhere hidden in the blackness was the body, a cavernous devouring monster that would send mortals into madness with only a glance at its hideous form.
Thom scribbled furiously, catching the prose before it fluttered away from his mind on distant wings. He could hear the wet slithers, he could feel the cold reptilian skin as it brushed his own. He could feel all of this as he wrote, until sweating hands grabbed him for real and he screamed.
“Watch where you’re going boy!”
Thom was jerked back into the here and now, the darkened corners of his imagination retreated reluctantly, and he was standing face to face with a rather disappointing monster, his biology teacher. “Sorry Mr Stark” he muttered.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it Mr Bray, look at the mess you’ve made”
Thom followed Stark’s pointing to the spreading brown stain on the front of his pants. The teacher had been carrying a large mug of coffee that was now half emptied in the most inconvenient of locations.
“Come with me Bray”
Thom noted the drop of Mr in Stark’s angry tone; the biology teacher now had hold of his shoulder and was dragging him in his wake towards the teacher’s lounge. Stark barged open the door and pulled him inside, Thom was immediately struck by the lack of offending odours. Back in his old school the teacher's lounge had been a place of refuge, a stale coffee, sweat and fear aroma hung on the air whenever the door was cracked open and the sour waft ventured into the hallways. This lounge however, looked like a plush apartment, there were several long and deep sofas, there were reclining armchairs, large bookcases with both reference and fiction books. There were also excellent catering facilities, two large vending machines stood tall and proud against the far wall, even from this distance Thom could see that the monetary facility was disabled. Fresh fruit and pastry crumbs sat happily on serving platters on long wooden tables as did two industrial coffee machines, Thom didn’t eat this well at home.
“Sit Bray” Stark pointed to the furthest sofa from by the sink, grabbing some napkins and wetting them at the sink.
Thom obeyed the instruction and sat, enjoying the comfort, less so when Stark sat down a little too close to him.
“Look at the mess you made Thom”
Thom tried to avoid staring directly at the slightly uplifted groin area that his biology teacher was indicating towards. Stark began dabbing at his trousers,
“You’re a strange one Thom” Stark said pleasantly, “You’ve got brains, you’ve got intelligence, but no one seems to be able to, um, stimulate you”
Thom suddenly felt a little uncomfortable, the school around them was deserted of teachers and students, only his own dawdling had left him behind.
“I mean that you could go far, you could go as far as you wanted, you just have to give a little more effort” Stark said in a strange hushed voice as he continued cleaning his trousers.
Thom was not completely oblivious to the ways of the world, he’d had a couple of girlfriends back in LA, and he’d even brushed a tender breast over a thick jumper once before. It was not until Stark gently brushed a trembling hand across his cheek did alarm bells ring, Stark’s other hand was still dabbing the coffee stain at his groin and his breathing deepened and hitched. For a moment, Thom thought that the teacher was having a stroke of some kind, his breath was positively panting now. Thom’s own mind suddenly exploded as he felt an unwanted hand brush his own thigh, he looked into the teacher’s eyes and saw a strange blend of terror and excitement in Stark’s expression. The world stood still, and Thom’s body felt frozen like a deer in the headlights, he desperately wanted to scream and yell for help, he wanted to tell the teacher to get the fuck off of him. But all he could do was sit and shiver, abruptly the poisoned silence was shattered by a ringing cell phone, Stark suddenly looked as though he was aware of his actions for the first time. The teacher’s face reddened a crimson shade, and he stood quickly and awkwardly. Stark took the phone from his inside pocket and flipped the ringing phone open. His expression turned from red to black as he saw the identity of the caller, Thom sat fixed to the sofa, he knew that this was his window, but something about the shaking biology teacher was fascinating to watch.
“H-H-H-Hello” Stark stammered, “I wasn’t…” he spluttered nervously, “But I, I, I wouldn’t, I resent the…”
Thom watched as Stark’s face grew increasingly terrified, his expression was now a mask of terror, whoever was on the other end of the phone was shaking the teacher to his very core.
“But, but” Stark was barely able to speak against the incoming tirade, “I will… of course… yes right away” he pressed the end call button with a shaking finger. “Thom, you’d better go home now son” he said in a strained robotic voice.
Thom managed to hoist himself up off of the sofa; Stark kept his back to him and wouldn’t turn around and face him. As scared as he’d been, the slumped shoulders of the teacher now wobbling with the soft sound of crying brought forward an unwanted dreg of sympathy, he squashed it hard and left quickly and without a word.
Henry Stark was calculating the time that it would take for him to get home, get the ready packed case and get out, his heart was pounding and not in the good way. He cursed his weakness, for so long it had been kept under control, locked and chained in the basement like the filthy animal that it was. He couldn’t believe that one slip had already ruined everything. It was a roller coaster that had been set in motion; the car had climbed the steep incline slowly and steadily without him even noticing. He’d sat on the sofa staring into the eyes of the young, fresh virgin spoils, without even realising that his mind was set in motion. Suddenly the rollercoaster had tipped over the top of the slow, steep incline and then pitched forward. The car had rolled with startling speed, careering forward and violently out of control. His primal instincts had taken over, whilst his self-preservation had lain dormant and silent, all it had taken was one hand on one thigh, and his world had collapsed around him.
His hands shook with fear as he desperately tried to get his keys in the car ignition, he steadied himself with considerable care, if he didn’t grasp onto the life preserver now, then he would never be found again. The phone call had shattered his fantasies into a million pieces and dragging him back into the real world. A world that had now turned black and deadly. Eventually he calmed himself enough to start the car, with forced control he pulled out of the parking lot slowly, and nonchalantly drove the short distance to his house. He thumped the wheel in frustration, everything here had been perfect, so perfect, the money was fantastic, the classes were small and the students eager and manageable. The school board had even provided him with a house in town. It was a spectacular property far in excess than anything he had ever seen before. Throughout his whole career, he had been able to suppress his unnatural desires during work hours. There had been a number of select and discreet organisations that he had maintained a discreet membership to. This select band of merry men had provided him with enough data, to enable him to function out in the real world; he had guarded his memberships with the utmost care and scrutiny. He had always been able to keep his desires under control, through sheer force of will and cowardice over his discovery and he had never laid a hand on any student. It was the most perverse of ironies that he had been suspended from his last job over an untrue allegation of abuse, by a failing student with a grudge to bear. Alan Hatcher had been an academically underachieving thirteen year old. “Hatch” had been an all star performer on the field, the court and the pool, but never in the classroom. He was popular with both sexes in the school. He had an easy, casual manner that drew those around him, boys wanted to be him, and girls wanted to be with him. His effortless charm had won him fans amongst the faculty, none more so than with the Principal who had come to Henry one day pleading with him to tutor the boy through his classes. Hatch’s prowess in the sporting arena drew much wanted attention to the school in an age of competition for funding. Henry had been the most effective teacher at the school, owing in no small part to his desire to be close to his children. At first Hatch had been willing and attentive, but his interest soon waned. His attention was difficult to hold, he would lose focus quickly, and his temper became short and easy to blow. Henry noticed that Hatch would have mood swings and would become easily upset, and it soon became clear that a standardised test for ADD was in order. Hatch had been willing to try the test, as the thought of becoming mellower and much more on an even keel was appealing to him, as he was aware of his own troubles. The problem had been Hatch’s father, a bear of a man determined to see his only son rise to the sporting heights that he had been unable to scale. Butch Hatcher had reacted severely and unexpectedly to the threat to his own dreams, and Henry had soon found himself on the end of a particularly nasty smear campaign of sexual abuse. The irony being that Henry had often fantasised about that very subject, and it had taken all of his iron will to keep his hands to himself. Fortunately and surprisingly for Henry, the school had rallied around him, his students and fellow teachers had banded together and marched to his defence. It had been a rough few weeks, but eventually Hatch himself, along with his mother had stepped forward and refuted the allegations. Henry had been lauded to the rafters for his dignity and calm in the face of such monstrous accusations. In reality, Henry had spent the weeks praying for a miracle, basking in the realisation that if he had ever acted on his impulses, then this would be the reality of his fate. Once cleared, he had sought to leave the area, to find another school far away from the inevitable distrusting eyes of those who would always wonder, despite his clearing. He hadn’t intended to take another teaching position, but the email from Eden had been a gift from the heavens, promising a new and prosperous life. Once he’d visited the town, he was sold, the school was a luxury for a teacher, and the size of the town meant that he could never be tempted again. There would be no place to hide and no crowd to conceal himself amongst. Until today, he had kept the promise to himself; it had been a mad slip, an insane fall from grace that had ruined everything.
He pulled into his driveway and ran to his front door, it was one of the few locked doors in the town he’d wager, but there were some dangerous publications that had been ever so carefully concealed. He flew up the stairs and into his spacious bedroom, his shoes scraping on the hardwood floor that normally would not have permitted such footwear. He quickly grabbed the already packed suitcase from on top of the wardrobe; it was an old habit that had never died, an emergency door that he had never fully closed. The open bedroom door suddenly eased towards closing behind him, and a vast dark shadow fell across his world drowning him in terror. He turned slowly to face his reckoning, “Please” he wept, his hands up and out, “I can just leave, I’ll go”
The shadow moved towards him slowly with black menace.
“I never even touched him” he sobbed.
The thick length of rope slipped effortlessly over his head, and the massive man tightened the noose roughly. Suddenly he was being dragged forward with immense strength, his feet slipped on the hardwood flooring as he staggered. The man pulled him through the doorway and out onto the landing. Realising what was happening, Henry began to struggle, but he was feather caught in a hurricane. He was pulled to the thick oak banister that ran the length of the open landing. The bear pulled him in close and his feet were off the ground, he kicked backwards scraping his heel uselessly down the bear’s leg. He was held in one massive and powerful arm, whilst the other end of the rope was wrapped around the banister. Suddenly he was hoisted up and over the rail; he was held out suspended in mid air and looked back into the soulless smiling eyes of his death. Then he was falling, the sharp snap did not break his neck completely and he was left to ponder the natural order of justice, as he slowly choked and his world faded.
The barbeque was flowing along with the wine, as was customary the evening was warm, and the company was pleasant. Michael turned the steaks several times pointlessly as was the want of men when cooking over a fire, the smells drifted on the gentle breeze as did the occasional bout of laughter.
Emily sat with Sarah-Jane on the wooden garden furniture, the seating was comfortable and the conversation likewise. Sarah-Jane drank a little too much and a little too quickly. Emily watched with pleasure as her young friend’s confidence grew and swelled before her eyes. She knew that the main source of SJ’s happiness was standing with Michael griddling seasoned meats with beer fuelled expertise. Dr Samuel Creed held a chilled bottle in one hand, and Emily guessed a very soft spot for a certain young teacher in the other.
“So have you, you know, yet?” Emily asked curiously.
Sarah-Jane blushed deeply, but for once, she didn’t drop her eyes from Emily’s gaze, “Not quite” she confessed with a whisper. “We’ve done, you know, other stuff, just not that, not yet”
“Do you think he’s big all over?” Emily giggled.
“EM!” SJ shrieked unable to contain her explosive laughter, “I certainly hope so” she whispered again leaning in closer, her cheeks burning.
“What are you two laughing about?” Michael called from the grill smiling.
“Oh you know, just girly stuff, clothes and shoes” Emily teased, smiling back poking her tongue out.
The evening had passed happily despite Michael’s concerns over Sarah-Jane and the doctor’s fledgling relationship. He had expressed his concerns to Emily that they would all spend the evening sitting in awkward silence. His fears had been fast laid to rest, the doc was a comfortable companion, he didn’t garble away aimlessly, and he didn’t look to dominate the conversation, only speaking when he had something to say. They had quietly discussed Emily’s pregnancy, Michael knew that his anxieties were normally unfounded, but they persisted all the same. His nagging fears crept around the corners of his mind in the small, dark hours exclusively at first, but they soon grew tired of the unsociable hours and began making their presence felt during the bright day. Michael knew that until the day he died, he would carry the responsibility of Emily’s accident and their baby’s loss no matter how much Emily protested. It wasn’t a case of not believing that she had wanted to venture out on that fateful winter evening, it just simply didn’t matter, his actions, or lack thereof, had directly contributed to Emily being struck by the car that had changed their lives. Unbeknownst to Emily, Michael had held several informal appointments with Dr Creed, the purpose being to talk through his guilty conscience. Michael had come to accept that his guilt was perhaps not quite as fulsome and complete as he had once believed, but it would always exist and he would have to make peace with that.
Michael was drooling over the melting meat when Thom Bray’s face appeared around the house. Michael immediately raised a hand in welcome, but stopped when he saw the boy’s face. Despite their conversations and Thom’s obvious brightness and maturity, he was still really a child and Michael saw that child’s worried face, illuminated with fear and something else, shame, embarrassment, he couldn’t tell.
“Thom!” Emily yelled an enthusiastic greeting, her words carrying across the large garden, “Come in, come in, you hungry?”
Michael saw a reticence on the young man’s face, he handed the tongs to Creed, “Take over for a minute doc, use your steady surgeon's hands”
“Perhaps I should have told you before Mike, I actually flunked medical school” he taunted, “I did get my vet’s licence though”
“Funny man” Michael laughed, “I’ll remember that next time I have to write you a cheque” he left the party and headed over to the waiting boy. “Thom” he said as he got closer, “Everything okay?” He could see from this distance that everything was most certainly not, “What is it, what’s happened?” Thom’s trembling face threatened to collapse into tears and Michael felt a strong and not unpleasant paternal tug. “Here, come into the house” He led Thom in through the patio doors and into the kitchen, the light was dimming inside, but an instinct made him not turn on the lights, whatever had happened, perhaps Thom would prefer a little dim lighting.
Thom ran through the afternoon’s events and Michael fought to control his rising temper. Thom spoke slowly and stutteringly, he told Michael that his mother was out at work for the day and wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours. Michael noticed several times that Thom’s thumb rose towards his mouth in an unconscious childhood mannerism. Primal instincts run deep in man, and Michael’s first thoughts were of retribution, he would hunt and he would kill. Violent thoughts were augmented every time that he looked into the deeply scared and embarrassed face of a skinny fourteen year old boy. He was saved however, by a soft hand on his shoulder, he turned and looked into the knowing face of his wife, her gaze was steady and her eyes clear. Reason returned, and sane rationale took hold, storming castles with pitchforks and lit torches would benefit nobody at this point, least of all Thom.
“Tell me from the beginning Thom” she instructed rather than asked in an authoritative voice born from years of teaching and experience of children.
After telling the story for a second time, Michael watched as Emily’s manner calmed and settled Thom. His voice grew stronger and more assured, and Michael knew that in the boy’s place, he would already be thanking his lucky stars that he had gotten off this lightly. Thom had suffered an almighty scare; the thought of what might have happened without the intervention of the fortuitous phone call was truly horrifying. Just who had been on the other end of the line that had scared the teacher back to his senses was a matter for consideration, but their priority now had to be Thom and Mr Stark.
Sarah-Jane appeared in the kitchen behind them, Michael turned to see her face filled with sadness seemingly directed at Thom.
“I’ve called the Sheriff’s office and told them about what happened” she said gently, “They’re going to pick up Stark now and someone will be by for Thom”
Michael and Thom shared a private look, the last thing that either of them wanted was for the big Sheriff to come rolling in again, and Quinn’s motives were still a cause for worry.
Deputies Kurt Stillson and Tommy Ross pulled up to Stark’s house, the teacher’s car was still in the driveway. They exited the squad car quickly and carefully, neither man was armed as was the way in Eden. Kurt placed a hand on Stark’s car bonnet, a manoeuvre that he had seen on television countless times; he was pleased to feel that the engine was still warm.
“He hasn’t been back long” Kurt said with authority. He led the way to the front door, Tommy moved behind him with a smile.
“You see that on TV” Tommy whispered as they reached the door.
“No” Kurt bristled, “Standard police work”
“Yeah right” Tommy laughed.
Kurt took a pair of disposable gloves out of his back pocket and began struggling to pull them on.
“What are you doing?” Tommy giggled.
“Fingerprints” Kurt hissed annoyed.
“Who’s exactly, Stark lives here alone and you’re opening the door”
Kurt gave up the job of trying to pull the tricky gloves on, his mood darkened, for the first time since his move here; he had envisioned a real crime and a real arrest, hopefully with resistance. Tommy was spoiling his daydream with boring reality.
Kurt pushed the door open not bothering to knock, “Mr Stark” he called out loudly, “Stark!” The front door opened into a large open plan lounge area. The bay windows let in plenty of natural light and Kurt was admiring the tasteful decoration when Tommy elbowed him painfully in the ribs. “What?” He turned to his partner. Tommy’s attention was located upwards; Kurt followed his eye line. Swinging from the landing banister was the teacher in question, Stark’s face was swollen and puffy, and his eyes were rolled back in his head. The noose swayed gently under the soft breeze of the air conditioning, and Kurt moved closer to the body. Stark’s tongue lolled grotesquely from his open mouth and the closer Kurt got to the body the more his nose wrinkled in disgust at the voided odour emanating from the dead man. Despite his initial terror, Kurt found himself morbidly fascinated by the corpse.
“Kurt” Tommy’s urgent voice shocked him back, “Don’t touch anything, not a damn thing, oh, and it might actually be an idea to put those gloves on after all”