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The Fear Master, dressed as a clown, stood back from what he had written on the school auditorium’s whiteboard.

Vic, holding hands with Stevie, on his right, looked straight ahead. Debbie, sitting with Stevie on her left, sucked on a bottle of mineral water and pretended not to notice. Keith sat on the right-hand side of Debbie, and Betty to the left of Vic. Betty and Keith had compared notes on their warnings and had decided it would be better not to seem to be uniting against The Fear Master by sitting together. The scariest thing, they agreed, was not the messages themselves, but the fact he had been able to get into Betty’s place (on the tenth floor with her parents home) undetected. Whatever his game was (“Let the games begin!”), he was serious about it, and even if the game itself was harmless (was it?) he had shown he could turn ugly the way a football crowd could or a spurned admirer could or just about anyone could if they took what they were doing seriously enough.

“‘By the dim yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created.’ As you would know, Keith, that’s from Frankenstein. It creates suspense, sets a mood. We know something terrible is going to happen with the monster – not quite yet – but our sense of mounting dread has begun. A hundred and forty years later, when Bloch writes that Mother’s knife cut off Mary Crane’s scream – and her head – it is one of the great shocks of modern literature. Of course, you would know that, Debbie.”

Debbie lifted her water bottle in a toast of agreement and winked.

What a moron, thought Betty.

“And for those of you who’ve been too busy tweeting to read Psycho, I understand Hitchcock’s movie, in glorious black-and-white, is to be screened on TV in coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that.”

“Black-and-white,” whispered Stevie to Debbie while squeezing Vic’s hand.

Looking away, Debbie guzzled her drink.

“As a Cutter Cade fan, Betty, you’d no doubt favour shock tactics. The Fear Master flashed a wolf-in-the-clown-mask grin. He’d given her a shock, all right. And his reference to the shower scene in Psycho was surely no coincidence.

“You, on the other hand, Keith, would probably prefer suspense. To you I recommend Hitchcock’s Rope in which a couple of ‘superior’ students kill a classmate, hide his body in a trunk and serve dinner off it to his family. Will they get away with it?”

“Nope,” said Debbie.

“You’ve seen the movie?” asked The Fear Master.

“No, but … people never get away with it in movies.”

“Sometimes they do.”

“Name one.”

Murder on the Orient Express. The Silence of the Lambs. There’s two.”

“Yeah, well …”

“The latter was based on the same source material as Psycho – Ed Gein, the skin-wearing cannibal. They say the Butcher of Benton – what was his name, Laurie Naughton? – killed and wore the skin of fourteen teenage victims before being locked away in a rubber room for being such a naughty boy. But some people say Laurie wasn’t even the killer. Crazy and dangerous he might have been, but he just didn’t have the smarts to pull it off. Benton’s just a couple of hours away from here. So if loony old Laurie didn’t do it, that would mean … the real killer’s still out there. Take a moment right now to look at the person sitting next to you, and ask yourself … how well do I know them? Really. Go on – look. How well do I really know this---”

THUMP. A sandbag fell from above, hitting The Fear Master on the head. Folding to his knees, he dropped to the floor.

In the moment it took for the Fear Leaders to register this, a slim figure appeared on the catwalk that ran around the sides of the auditorium above the stage. Dressed completely in black, he had wild grey hair, a bushy beard, and a machine-gun. Cackling, he opened fire on the audience below.

The Fear Leaders screamed, diving for cover, as the gunman grabbed a rope and swung in over their heads, continuing to fire as he dropped like a cat onto the stage, as the Fear Leaders kept screaming, and the lights went out.

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