School wasn’t as far as most thought. I clung on to my deodorant deep within my coat pocket, ready to blind an attacker, for the rest of the walk and refusing to let go until the woodland was far behind us. My tears had subsided and I had eventually stopped crying, just in time to walk through the main doors of school.
The pupils, including myself, who had traveled on the bus were naturally late, which was excused, and we arrived just as the bell rang to signal the end of morning registration.
Teenagers poured out of classrooms and out onto the halls; chatting madly to friends, hanging around their lockers, the older students stalking out of the doors to smoke under the apple tree; all of them leaving it until the last minute to walk to their first lesson.
I saw no reason to hang around so I left David and ‘The Populars’, who were still sniggering about me loud enough to hear, behind as I headed to Physics. I rolled my eyes and gritted my teeth to keep the immature retorts, which I could have easily shouted back at them, firmly behind my tongue.
The only thing wrong with David was he knew exactly how to get under my skin, the result of knowing each other for so long. He would purposefully act differently with me than he would with the rest of his friends.
It was the same as it was every morning as I strolled down the corridors, some people smiled at me whilst others didn’t. It should be different; either nobody attending this school owned a radio or most had heard the news report of my burnt down house and hadn’t yet linked the address to me or my family.
I knew I had to tell the police, Mrs Cutler had warned me that I must before I left the house that morning. How could I explain an invisible attacker? The weird sense of being stalked? Along with everything else, I’d be locked away into some mental asylum for certain. I was dreading the time when I would have to explain to Pheonix and Elle, who would have both heard the report and recognized it as mine, and when they demanded sensible answers I couldn’t give.
I passed the female teachers loo and my physics teacher was about to push on the door with an armful of papers when she caught my eye, “Ivy!” Mrs. Anderson beamed enthusiastically at me. She was a happy lady, with cropped blonde hair and rosy cheeks, my obvious favourite teacher as she was always full of life with a mischievous twinkle in her bright eyes. “Can you quickly run these down to the main office for me?”
I carefully took the papers from her hands in reply and she bubbled, “Thank you, that’s a great help. Try and hurry, you’ve done extremely well in your coursework but I want to go over one or two alterations,” She gave me a confident grin, “Nothing major, just a few spelling mistakes, it will take no time at all.” Then suddenly uncomfortable to be talking outside the woman’s toilets she told me she would see me in class and hurried me on my way.
I scurried along to the main office and back towards the science rooms just as the last of the pupils filed miserably to lessons.
I was little by little lowering myself into the seat beside Elle when I noticed the teacher was still absent, there was no date or lesson plan scrawled across the board as there usually was and the computer screen showed no sign of life.
Like most of the other students in the room, I took advantage of the extra free time; not by drawing rude images on the board, not by putting my head onto the desk in front of me and sleeping, not by applying makeup whilst listening to music. Instead I launched myself into a conversation with Elle who was, at that moment, treating me as if I were a mass murderer, and that is how I knew she had tuned in to the local radio station that morning.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I started.
Her lips were pressed together in a thin line, “No you don’t, stop trying to do Pheonix voodoo on me, you know it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when she does it, so it’s not going to work now.”
“You’re asking yourself why I would do such a dreadful thing,”
“Hmm.” Her tone was flat.
I huffed out a sigh, “Elle, I swear I didn’t do it! Not even accidentally, I’ve tried telling David but he won’t listen to another word of it.” I was counting on Elle, as one of my closest friends, to back me up and support me where David had not.
“You’ve got five minutes to convince me you’re not a lying, back-stabbing, two-faced criminal,” She replied sternly.
I spoke quickly, the words pouring out of my mouth faster than I thought possible. If I couldn’t convince Elle, who was always there when no one else was, I would be practically alone. I rushed through the entire weekend like a child on E numbers, naming every event.
Elle sat patiently. She didn’t interrupt and when my minutes were up she remained silent. I could tell she was running over every detail, analysing every word in her head. Her lack of speech worried me, but at last she turned to me and said, “There is no possible way that your attacker could have been invisible, Ivy.” The look of disappointment on my face earned me a smile, “But it is possible for him or her to have been dressed in fully black when they turned the lights off,” She added, “And I also think that there is no possible way that you have the mental ability to burn a slice of toast let alone an entire house down.”
I laughed a proper laugh. I hadn’t laughed in days and it felt good to be feeling back to normal.
“I don’t think you’ve ever cooked a day in your life!” She giggled.
David, who heard the pair of us laughing, turned questioningly. He caught my eye for a swift moment and raised an eyebrow, until I childishly glared at him and looked away. I continued to chatter with Elle, about boys mostly. And chocolate.
Half way through our discussion on who was better looking out of Jared Leto or Marcus Mumford the whole classroom froze, like somebody had pressed ‘pause’ on the remote and the madness on the television just stopped mid-swing. The person who held the remote in the palm of his hand was stood in the doorway; Mr. Kingsman glared into the class, the headmaster’s beady eyes swept over the students within.
Most of the boys were stood up; some trying to hide the rude and graphic drawings on the board and other had paper planes still poised in their hands. Every girl was sat on a table, a cosmetic instrument in hand. Nobody moved, they remained perfectly still and kept both eyes on the head as his frown grew deeper.
“There has been a terrible accident. It’s involving Mrs. Anderson.” The headmaster coughed, as if to remove a lump in his throat, he was clearly upset about something.
One of the school’s football team piped up, “What’s happened, Sir?”
Mr. Kingsman shook his head, “I am not sure if I am permitted to say yet, however this class is cancelled.”
A couple of the lads at the back cheered.
“Sir,” The geek of the class, Isobelle, asked timidly, “Is Mrs. Anderson okay? I saw her just this morning.”
“I’m afraid not,” The man looked rather pale, eyes hollow and as if he was about to throw up, “She has been killed.”
Gasps exploded around the room.
Mr. Kingsman carried on, his voice terribly grave, “Her body was found in the teacher’s bathroom a few minutes ago. The police are on their way, as are forensics, everyone stay where they are unless told to do otherwise by me or another member of staff. Parents have been informed of the situation but I ask you to refrain from parading this tragedy on social media. I don’t want to disrespect Mrs. Anderson and as her family are unavailable at the moment, they have yet to be told.” His tone now serious but showed signs of genuine upset. “I’m sad to say that there has been, or still is, a killer inside our walls.”
A sweet girl named Emily let out a sob but then buried her face into the shoulder of the girl beside her. To me it didn’t make sense, didn’t add up, didn’t seem real. I felt like I was in a dream, a nightmare, I had seen Mrs. Anderson only a mere few minutes ago, spoken to her – we had exchanged smiles! I had run an errand for her… and that’s when it struck me, I was probably the last person to see her alive.
“And can I speak to a…Miss Ivy Taylor?” Mr Kingsman read my name from a thin slip of paper and then replaced it into his pocket.
All eyes in the classroom turned to me. I took a deep breath and, feeling my face go deathly pale, slid off the desk and shuffled towards the tall man with balding grey hair in an ugly brown suit. He continued to hold open the door open until I had stepped out onto the corridor and then he shut it behind me.
“I think we would be better taking this into the comfort of my office,” He reassured me with a slight smile, “Oh, it’s alright Miss. Taylor, we’ll only be in there for a few minutes, I just need to ask you a few questions. It will be so much easier than standing here looking like, quite frankly my dear, idiots.”
I couldn’t help but beam; I had never seen this side of the headmaster before and I liked it.
“Come along,” He smiled once more and then led the way to his office.
It didn’t take long and soon we were stood outside the big double doors made of oak.
I’d always imagined that when I was sat in the principal’s office I would be squirming on a rickety, wooden stool with the door closed as he would lean over me like an angry wave about to swallow me whole. But, it wasn’t like that at all, his office wasn’t unfriendly and as Mr. Kingsman had opened the door, the room glowed warmth and welcomed me inside. Like all the other rooms in the medieval building, the colours, woven to become the heavy fabrics, were deep and old-fashioned – much like the varnished wooden floorboards used, not only in this room, but for every floor around the school.
The furniture had intricate, swirling patterns carved into the dark timber. The school had once been a gothic mansion in the sixteenth century, but was then converted into an exclusive all boys school back in the day and then again transformed into the “modern” school it was. I always believed it haunted, and even though it was very stupid and wrong of me to think it – but maybe the ghost of a previous inhabitant had been responsible for Mrs. Anderson’s murder.
The headmaster sat behind his great wooden desk in a plush, but ghastly, armchair – while I was placed on a wooden stool with one thin cushion that was so old, or flimsy, it wobbled like an earthquake if I shifted my weight even slightly.
“Now,” Mr. Kingsman mused over the word, smacking his lips tightly together, “I have been informed by a member of staff that you saw Mrs. Anderson this morning?”
The last person to see her alive you mean, I thought to myself.
“You ran an errand for her, is that correct?”
“Yes,” I nodded, “She gave me a pile of forms to take up to the office for her.”
I watched warily as he jotted something onto a yellow A4 sheet of paper with a box, a few dotted lines and a jumble of words on it. He pushed his glasses further up his nose, “At what time?”
“Just after morning registration, the school bus broke down and a few of us arrived late. When I handed in the forms, I signed myself in.”
“Very wise of you,” Mr. Kingsman pondered, scribbling something else down, “Where was Mrs. Anderson when she gave you the forms?”
“Yes, Miss. Taylor?”
“Will I have to repeat this to the police?”
He smiled kindly, “No, I’m writing, what we call, a statement. It tells the police a first-hand account of when and where you were, it gives you an alibi. I will hand it to the police when they arrive, after you have signed it of course.”
“But why now? Why not when the police get here, so they can listen to me too?”
“There are many reasons for that. The first one is, I don’t like my students coming into contact with the police, let alone be questioned by complete strangers of the law. Secondly, there was no substitute teacher free to teach your current lesson, so instead of taking valuable learning time away from you, I took you from a class where you would be learning nothing. Thirdly, I wanted to deal with this issue as quickly and as low profile as possible.” He watched me carefully over his thick, black-rimmed glasses.
I bowed my head, slightly uncomfortable, “We were outside the teachers’ bathrooms. I was on my way to her class and we bumped into each other. There were people in the halls, I-I I have-” I took a deep breath to calm my stammering, “There are witnesses who can vouch for me. Before she went in she gave me the forms and then told me that she would see me in lesson,” I didn’t realize I was crying until it was too late, “But she didn’t! She said she would, and now she’s gone!” I put my head in my hands and sobbed, “She’s dead,” I began to taste salt from my tears in my mouth.
“Just calm down Miss. Taylor, your statement is done – all you have to do now is sign it.”
I lifted my blurry eyes up to watch my head teacher push the document across the smooth table.
“Of course, you may read it, so you can ensure that you’re not signing your life away,” I earned myself another slight smile.
I wiped my eyes so I could read my statement to confirm the head had not missed anything out. Written out was my account of this morning, all accurate and neat. I signed it, glanced at the elderly gentleman and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’
“Now, off to class. I’ll get Alexander to take you – he’s a strapping lad and is able to protect you. We can’t have young ladies like you roaming the corridors alone now, can we?” He rang a bell and we waited in an awkward silence for the door to open.
When it did, I was surprised to see the boy with the soft eyes and the friendly smile step in. He looked at me sheepishly through his golden lashes. Before I left the room, Mr. Kingsman went over to the fireplace and retrieved me a tissue, then he patted my back, gave me another smile and eventually sent Alexander and I on our way.
When we were a few feet from the headmaster’s office, I turned to ask in my most natural tone, “So, why are you at Kingsman’s beck and call?”
“Office duty,” He shrugged, “No way out, it’s a standard senior year procedure.”
“Huh,” I said bleakly.
“I take it you heard about Mrs. Anderson?” Alexander asked gently.
I nodded, “That’s why Kingsman and I were in his office; he was writing me a statement, or something like that.”
“Ah! You’re the girl who ran the errand,” He grinned at me, showing straight, white teeth.
“Ivy Taylor, please to meet you,” I said, my tone was emotionless.
He chuckled, “Alexander Millar.”
“Nice to finally put a name to a face,” I smiled slightly, it had become hard to smile, “I’ve seen you around.”
“I’ve been around.”
I shot him a look.
He caught it and began to stammer, “No-no! I didn’t mean it like that! I meant-”
I stopped him, “It’s okay, I know what you meant.”
Alexander looked rather relieved, and then his face darkened as he said, “Now, do I want to know what you saw in the trees on the way to school?”
I swallowed; chills ran across my skin like shots of ice, “You really believe me?” Finally somebody who could and would help me, I wasn’t alone in the dark anymore.
“Well, yeah,” He shrugged, “Why would anyone lie about something like that? Absurd as it seems, it’s entirely possible.”
I wanted to cry with happiness and relief, together we could find out what is was and –
“Hey, isn’t this your class?” Alexander broke my train of thought.
I cleared my throat, “Er, yeah.” I gave him a twitch of the corner of my mouth and opened the door.
“See you around Iz.”
The door closed behind me.
There was still no teacher, or substitute, but the room was next to silent. It was filled with hushed whispers, crying girls, brooding boys and as I stepped further inside, the air got colder. I sat beside Elle once again. I saw that she had been crying; her eyes were bloodshot and her mascara was clumpy.
She coughed, trying not to snivel, “What did Kingsman want?”
“To ask me some questions for a statement, or something,” I tried to keep my voice level and calm but it was all over the place.
“A statement?” She hissed, “Whatever for?!”
I lowered my voice, “I was the last person to see Mrs. Anderson alive.”
Just as the last chilling word left my lips, the entire school was plunged into darkness.