Here is the opening of my book: The Onion of Reality.
(There are mild expletives.)
It was nothing like those scenes you see in the movies thought Harry Moonbeam as he found himself running for his twenty-three year-old life through an empty restaurant kitchen. You’re supposed to throw anything that isn’t screwed down into the path of your attacker. Well, thank you health & safety, everything was screwed down and tidied away for tomorrow’s service. All Harry could find was an onion; hardly the weapon of choice. But in the right hands…
“Daydreaming again, Moonbeam?” boomed Mr Bron.
“What? No,” answered Harry, suddenly finding himself in detention. Yet again. And with Bron boring a slow sadistic look straight into his soul which was uncomfortable to say the least. ‘Bertie’ Bron, the science teacher was a stickler for rules and regulations, believing that it was not possible for life to exist without, or even outside, them. Right now Harry was testing these limits. He would have to work hard, actually, more like grovel, if he were to have any chance of redemption. Bron was someone you didn’t cross, his rages were legendary and it didn’t take much to set him off. It wasn’t simply a case of light the blue touch-paper, stand well back and enjoy – oooooh… aaaaah… – you never lit the touch-paper in the first place; only a fool would do that. A fool such as… Harry Moonbeam.
Harry exhaled a little of the personal disappointment within him. This didn’t feel right, he was sure he had been in the middle of doing something else, some ‘thing’ really important. He didn’t understand why he was back in detention, but obviously there must have been a reason, perhaps it was his personality. Harry considered himself happy-go-lucky, but maybe he was more the sort that just attracts trouble, he couldn’t be sure, not everything was black and white these days… although this classroom of habitual sinners was devoid of any colour, appearing a stark monochrome where even the buzzing ancient strip lights hanging from the high ceiling struggled to throw any of their yellow light downwards. It was dark. It was raining outside, so the windows were dull with greyness and being continually splattered with heavy and hard rain drops, each one holding a perfect reflection of the scene of imperfection inside. The stench of wet barathea blazers hung in the air and refused to dry despite the heat blasted out by the room’s heavy cast-metal radiators that were set to a temperature hotter than the sun. Untouchable. Someone had farted, silent but deadly. It was horrible. A big meal deal – stale meat reconstituted as a gas and served with extra re-fried onions. A cough was stifled from the back of the room. In situations like this it was unwise to draw attention to yourself – let the other poor bastard take it, you know he’d do the same to you.
Schoolmates were all about loyalty. Sharing this room of damnation were some of the future captains of industry; and boys who, although now smoked ciggies behind the bike sheds today, would one day be running the country, or someone else’s. There was indeed a bright future contained within this dark, dark room. Discipline was all. Character making. It had been beaten into Harry that to attend this all boys school would guarantee his own future. He had his doubts. Especially when he was in competition with people like Holding. There was no contest; Holding was ruthless, born without a conscience, he held fascist-themed birthday parties. A little bird said that Holding had sold his grandmother to the mob and made a profit. It was the last thing the little bird said before Holding blasted it out of the tree. Disproportionate force. Holding had an iron fist and no gloves, one day Holding would rule the world.
Who would be able to stop him? Who would be foolish enough?
Maybe the new boy, who seemed to be a girl? There was a long-haired girl sitting at the desk tucked away in the corner. The last time a girl had been on school grounds was when someone smuggled dark-haired Kate on to the playing fields at the end of term poetry picnic one year. It was a record turnout, there had never been so much interest shown in poetry before. And now here sat a secret blond. What was she doing here? Probably in detention for just that, being a girl – a serious offence in an all boys school. She turned towards Harry slightly, making his heart quiver and then slump – oh no, it was a boy after all. But serious respect from Harry, no other pupil in school dared have long hair. Or a beard. Which made them stand out; another punishable offence according to school rules – they’d never get away with it but they were because somehow Harry had drawn all the attention to himself.
How had that happened?
Oh yes, ‘allegedly’ he’d been so busy daydreaming that he’d forgotten the formalities of school – pupils always addressed teachers as ‘Sir’, even if they were a woman. Harry’s school was that strict like that. Then Harry remembered that he had just spoken to a teacher, the most miserable and unforgiving teacher, Mr Bron, and had forgotten to address him as ‘Sir’. To use the word angry would be an understatement. The fuming teacher looked down the length of his pitted but well-educated nose at Harry Moonbeam, his face turning from pink to red as he began shaking ever so slightly, the precursor that he was about to explode. Harry was not at a safe distance. There was a horrible lump in his throat – this happened when ever he got anxious – it constricted his breathing which made it difficult to speak. If he had the energy he would’ve squirmed in his seat, but all Harry could do was sit there, impassive, which looked like insolence.
“I mean ‘No, Sir’,” Harry feebly attempted to placate the livid man but the sound of the words came out like an ogre on a short breath of helium: high-pitched to growl in just two words. Laughter erupted around him. It didn’t help. Bron’s face was off the spectrum in colour, red-shifted into frequencies unknown that could not be seen by the human eye but their presence could be felt. Everyone else was still laughing, Harry could see the individual faces of his guffawing ‘mates’ in fish-eye close-up like a sequence from a bad Hammer horror. This wasn’t right.
“This isn’t right,” protested Harry quietly, the lump still in his throat. He swallowed and coughed. “THIS ISN’T RIGHT,” he said again louder. The laughter began to subside.
“I was not daydreaming.”
Mr Bron opened his mouth in a silent scream.
“In fact,” continued Harry, the rest of his fellow detainees hanging on his every word, eager to see the outcome of this situation which was unique; no one, but no one had ever stood up to the wrath of ‘Bertie’ Bron. Harry delivered his conclusion, “In fact, I’m sure I left school ages ago.”
Mr Bron exploded. It was like slow-motion rage. His chest puffed out, pulling at the buttons on his shirt. They began popping off, flicking on the underside of his knitted green tie and making it dance about like an angry snake. The side of Bron’s mouth twisted and tore into his cheek. His lower jaw sliding towards his right shoulder while the top of his head followed a trajectory spiralling in the opposite direction towards the ceiling causing his big fat purple tongue to push out towards Harry’s face. The noise Bron made was gruesome. Harry flinched backwards and cast a glance to Presland sitting next to him. Presland looked like he was about to cry, fine spots of the detention teacher’s blood had sprayed across his glasses. To avoid the inevitable messy ending, Harry tried to duck beneath the desk but as his chair leg scraped back it caught on the uneven wooden floor, bending the metal and collapsing the chair softly backwards like a recliner, allowing him to relax and watch the bloodied chunks of Mr Bron’s partially-clothed flesh burst across the room, hitting the gloss-painted walls where they stuck for an instant before slowly sliding down. One eyeball landed in Central Europe on the relief map on the wall, the enlarged pupil studied the Alps for a second before skimming across the Mediterranean, hopping over to Africa where it rolled from north to south by the most direct route and crossing all terrains from desert to jungle, finally departing at Port Elizabeth to leave this Earth and fall to the floor.
The room was silent. The walls noisy with blood spray.
All that was left of Bron where he had been standing were his boots and shreds of trousers surrounded by a sticky pool of blood, the surface of which rippled as pieces of brain dropped off from the fluorescent lights above. A small log of excrement sat atop the pile, disgusting Holding.
“Urh! He shat himself,” he complained.
The bell rang for end of detention and everyone got up to leave. Presland cleaned his glasses on his jumper before packing away his splattered books.
“That wasn’t so bad,” he chirped.
“The time seemed to fly by,” added Davis flicking a fragment of learned skull from his lapel.
“Ptuh!! Hey watch what you’re doing!” griped Landon across the room as he spat the skull fragment from the corner of his mouth and replaced it with the wodge of gum he’d retrieved from under his desk – chewing in detention was almost a capital offence under Bron’s rule – didn’t matter much now, thought Landon as he worked his jaws on the cold and hardened gum and absent-mindedly observed the steaming organic pool that used to be Mr Bron. Landon suddenly turned his nose up.
“This is not my gum,” he said, taking the glistening green ball out of his mouth and inspecting it.
“Aaargh!! I’ve lost my bogie collection,” screamed Oates frantically feeling under his desk in a panic at the back of the room.
Landon didn’t fall for it. “What, is it fruit-flavoured?” and threw the green gum ball at smirking Oates’s who caught it expertly with one hand. Landon then remembered, reached under his chair and retrieved a smaller pink wodge which he sniffed. Satisfied it was his preferred spearmint variety, he popped the pink ball into his gob.
Harry was still reclining on the floor, observing. He was back at school? It was like he’d never been away, all his old mates. And Holding. And the new bearded girl / boy who seemed to have disappeared. The class door suddenly pushed opened wide and sat shuddering on its hinges. Mr Evans along with two heavies blocked the doorway. Landon groaned under his breath, took out the pink gum and stuck it back under his chair again. The busy shuffle of leaving preparations subsided as the everyone became still. Evans stepped into the room, slowly. Purposefully. He glanced at the splattered walls; the dripping brain bits from the overheads; each pupil in turn; before resting on the reclined Harry Moonbeam. The eagle-eyed Deputy head had taken in the crime scene fully, missing nothing and undoubtedly had already formed his conclusion. Yet he persisted in asking questions. Evans pointed to the DNA pile of Mr Bron on the floor
“Who did this?” Evans boomed and spun away from Harry to meet Davis’ eye.
Davis flustered, Evans span to face Oates.
“Who did this?” he said, pointing hard at the blood pool.
Oates just managed to open his mouth when Evans span again and towered over the prostrate Harry.
“YOU DID THIS!” Evans proclaimed.
“It wasn’t me,” replied Harry in a voice so tiny it was hardly a defence at all.
“YOU DID THIS!” Evans proclaimed again. “Did he do this?” the Deputy head asked the rest of the detention class. Everyone nodded non-committally but Holding said the word “Yes,” firmly and clearly. Stitched up. Harry needed a cast-iron defence if he was ever going to escape this punishment.
“But I think I left school ages ago,” Harry mumbled.
“Meaning?” snuffed Evans.
“That the probability is that I’m not really here.”
Evans considered this argument, taking out a black handkerchief and patting the sweat on his forehead. Harry watched Evans mulling this conundrum, unable to work out which way his decision would fall. It was a dangerous strategy using the laws of particle physics in a case like this. Bron, who was, or at least had been, a science teacher, may have been impressed and swayed by Harry’s argument but Evans taught geography; geographers clearly believed that it was impossible to be in two places at the same time. Evans tucked the black handkerchief roughly back in the breast pocket of his jacket (the sort that only geography teachers knew where to buy).
“It was you,” he concluded matter-of-factly.
Harry had been caught off-guard, wondering exactly where such a jacket could be bought when the two heavies stepped inside the room, picked Harry up from the floor and hauled him outside. Evans stared at the relieved faces of the reprieved. He looked at the drying remains of Mr Bron again briefly.
“Get a first year to clean this up,” he said, turned and left the room.
* * *
Harry was being dragged down the corridor by the two heavies. He couldn’t see them, they were facing forwards, holding him under his armpits. He watched his heels scrape without noise along the stone paved floor, his feet bumping slightly as they traversed the gaps between the unlevel slabs. This would ruin his new shoes, he thought – Mum would kill him. Maybe he should try and escape, except his legs felt useless and he was a coward anyway. Besides which, his exit blocked by Deputy head Evans who had just emerged from the detention class.
“You won’t succeed, so don’t even consider it,” Evans shouted as he strode towards them. He had the uncanny knack of anticipating every pupil’s thoughts and actions. Rumour had it that he wrote everyone’s school reports at the start of the academic year. He knew whether it was worth teaching you or just consigning you to the intellectual scrapheap instantly. No one knew how.
“You could get expelled for this you know, Moonbeam.”
“But I’ve already left, Sir,” replied Harry remembering the etiquette of address.
“You’re only making this worse for yourself,” Evans was wagging a finger now which meant he was about to offer great insight. “You’ll never amount to anything Moonbeam. I don’t know why we even bothered with you beyond first year.”
“You’re putting me on the scrapheap?” Harry was incredulous.
“You won’t even make it that far.”
“You expect me to fail?”
“No, I expect you to die, Moonbeam,” laughed Evans as he strode ever closer, taking the black handkerchief from his breast pocket and draping it on his head. “Because you’re worthless.” And he froze like a pack shot.
“I’m not,” argued Harry. “I’m as valid a member of society as you are, and nicer.”
Evans’ laugh boomed down the corridor. “Nobody ever got anywhere by being nice.”
“I’ll make something of my life, I’ll show you.”
“Dream on Moonbeam.”
“But I can’t die.”
The invisible heavies holding Harry Moonbeam marched on relentlessly down the apparently infinite corridor, Evans became a mere speck in the distance. “It’s out of my hands,” he teased. “It’s the Headmaster’s decision now.”
The Headmaster was the top man, the number one, there was no one greater, the matter couldn’t be taken any higher. This was a man so powerful that Holding looked up to him, even god took advice from the Headmaster, so what chance did Harry have? His fate had already been sealed: there was nothing to discuss, you didn’t challenge the Headmaster, only a fool… you get the picture. It was a foregone conclusion Harry was going to be told to die, which made him incredibly woozy and for an instant everything went black.
There was an incredibly strong smell of wood and Harry instantly knew that he was not in the Headmaster’s office, for that smelled of musty wood and this was clean wood, pine fresh, but Harry couldn’t see any trees because he was completely in the dark. The space he was in felt more like inside than out and yet he felt a gentle warm gust blow at the back of his hair. And there was music, way off in the distance… no, it was nearer but muffled, like the sound had been contained within a box which made it difficult to work out what was playing – it was just an abstract series of dull drum beats and nondescript bass. So it was probably dance music.
Harry spread his arms out slowly to the sides, not in an attempt to dance but to get a measure of where he was – he could feel nothing. The same as he did towards dance music. The only thing Harry could be sure of was the floor – he was standing on a floor but then he remembered about assumptions: how did he know that the floor went beyond where he was standing? For all he knew he could be on top of a pole. There came that breeze again. Keeping his balance, Harry slowly bent down and felt for the floor. There was one, a polished concrete one, which meant he could at least try and walk out of wherever he was. He took a careful step forward. So far so good, but his second step was hindered by an obstacle – a wall. In fact not just one, but two walls: Harry was standing in a corner. Like a dunce.
So it was a small space? Like a cupboard, but why would he have been put there? He knew he’d done something wrong because he had that feeling, that knot in the pit of his stomach, the restrictive lump in his throat, as if someone was breathing down his neck. It was just like being back at school with the cruel tricks played on him. Although Harry knew he wasn’t really at school and that in reality he wasn’t in a cupboard either, that all this was some grand illusion his mind was playing on him to hide something. Like the truth.
But it really did feel like someone was breathing down his neck, hot and damp with spittle, so Harry turned around to get out of the corner, whereupon something tapped him gently on the head, several times, moving across his forehead like a moth bouncing against a lightbulb. Harry reached up and found it was a small plastic nobule at the end of a cord hanging from the ceiling – Harry had found the light switch. He pulled. The light was dim but his eyes still needed to adjust; he was surrounded by detergents, sprays, mops, brooms and in front of him stood the long-haired boy who wasn’t a girl. He didn’t look very happy. He didn’t say so but Harry knew, not because of his expression – Harry just knew.
In fact it was impossible to tell anything from the boy’s face because he didn’t have one. Someone had cut it off.
If you’ve managed to get this far, or even just scrolled to the end, an honest comment (good or bad) would be appreciated. In particular, from what you have read, what genre would you say this belongs to?
Thanks for making the effort.