Well, The Inspection: Part Two is just two weeks away from release and as a little refresher I thought I would put the first chapter of Part One up for your enjoyment.
Fifteen Years Ago
The police car sped down the tight country road at sixty miles per hour, its sirens whirring loudly and the blue light of its roof piercing the evening sky between the rows of trees and bushes that were a hallmark of this small, remote part of Derbyshire. Each pulse caused bough and branch to appear like old, twisted men, creeping closer to the dark tarmac with every throb of colour.
Bend after bend was navigated at speed, the car clinging to the road with increasingly vocal desperation until, with a loud wail of rubber on concrete, it screeched to a halt in the driveway of the old school. Another police car sat silently across its bow looking eerily still next to its brash and noisy counterpart.
It had been the hottest July in over a decade and heat shimmered across the farmers' fields, distorting the surrounding countryside and giving the entire scene a dreamlike quality. The sticky summer air clung to everything like a damp blanket and a full moon shone brightly picking out the highlights of the school’s facade but failing to penetrate the hidden darkness of its recesses.
The school itself was an imposing three-storied gothic style building on the outskirts of the small town of Redlock, known simply as the Lock to the locals, in the northeast of the county of Derbyshire, England. It had been erected in the early 1880s by the Redlock Town Council with the purpose of giving the young people of the area a grammar school in keeping with the village’s status and to serve as a way of keeping the cream of the population from the compulsory state schools popping up in the nearby towns and cities; a development that had alarmed the Council greatly.
In their usual grandiose manner, the Council didn't want to create just a school though. They wanted a statement: a grand beacon of opulence and elitism to last the ages. A place that housed the best of their society and gave them everything they needed to continue the Redlock legacy.
Obviously, a school of this stature had to look the part and to this end they searched far and wide for the best stonemasons and builders in all Victorian England to chisel and sculpt each brick, pillar and cornice from the best marble and stone over a two-year period, and then painstakingly erect the three-storied monstrosity. For the Council the school was a labour of love. For the workmen it was a seemingly never-ending exercise in pain and toil. But the pay was good, with each worker receiving almost a year’s pay every month and the consequences of quitting were dire for themselves and their families.
On completion the school shone. Every corridor, every room and every little detail was breathtakingly exquisite. Over time, this physical magnificence remained even as the school’s grandeur in status eroded. To the Council’s dismay, the school was eventually brought kicking and screaming into the state’s fold by progressively liberal thinking governments. Fortunately, due to its isolated location and generally favourable exam results they’d managed to keep it under their tight control and away from the meddling of outside bureaucrats; control they were not afraid to wield with an iron fist if required.
The building itself was still an imposing sight, which the weather pitted stone and the blackening of age couldn’t remove. If anything, time had made its edifice more intimidating as the darkening elicited a gothic aura from an already formidable facade. This was never more obvious than in the wide symmetrical frontage that overlooked the large driveway and school grounds from an elevated position atop a small hillock. The middle of this housed a pair of massive, inward opening oak wooden doors inlaid with engravings of the school crest, a dragon wrapped around a broadsword, and the emblems of the school houses. Surrounding the entrance on both sides, solid stone pillars and huge floor to ceiling paned windows gave the building a look of an old, worn face, with a wide stone staircase rising up to its entrance hanging down like a lolling tongue.
The Lock which supplied the school with the vast majority of its students, was a largish village of about three thousand residents spread along the base of the Hope valley surrounded by the green hills and brown moors of the Peak District. Although only twelve miles from the much larger town of Chesterfield and less than twenty-five miles from the sprawling metropolis of Sheffield, the surrounding peaks and valleys gave the sort of isolation that most residents craved and a high level of privacy keeping secrets from the prying eyes of the outside world.
The name Redlock itself originated from the reddish coloured, copper enriched water that ran from the surrounding hills into the river Derwent that bisected the village and kept the large stately homes of the south side from the rows of terraced and semi-detached houses of the much larger north side of the village. On hot days like today, when the river level was low and the water draining into the valley was down to a trickle, the colour intensified to a deep red making the land appear as if it was bleeding. It was the richness of stone and metal deposits in the surrounding hills turning the water crimson that many of the southern dwellers ancestors had exploited to make their fortune, often at the expense of the hard work and toil of the poorer northern residents. This geographical divide made the village split even more pronounced and bred the kind of class resentment normally only found in books set in the Victorian era.
Police sergeant Scott Baker was one of the north-side residents as was his father before him and his grandfather before that. He was proud to be from the village and even prouder to be a northerner. To Baker those south of the river were no better than him. Sure, they may have fancy houses and bidets to wash their arses after a shit but if they crossed the line, if they transgressed, they would answer to the law, to him. It didn’t take long for their air of superiority to fade when faced with a night in one of the cold eight by eight cells back at the precinct. Secretly he loved getting stuck into the so called upper classes of the Lock. After all, they were just born lucky and had probably never done a hard day’s work in their lives. Bringing them down to the level of common criminals was a highlight of his job that he relished.
As he jumped from the passenger side of the police car on this warm, sticky night, none of these thoughts of class or status crossed his mind and his portly frame wobbled comically from side to side as he hastily moved toward the main school building. The taller, slimmer and much younger PC Fox followed a little way behind from the driver’s side of the vehicle. In front of them constable Thompson sat on the school steps resting his head in his enormous hands. It had been almost twenty minutes since the PC had radioed the station requesting immediate assistance in a panic-stricken voice that had taken Marcie on dispatch ten minutes to make sense of. The stuttering tone and speed of his words was unusual for the normally laid-back constable who’d been a PC in the Derbyshire Dales for ten years and was a dead cert to be the next sergeant when Baker retired in a few months. In all the time Baker had known him he’d never once heard the man sound scared or look as pale and shaken as he did right now. Besides the guy was massive and weighed at least two hundred and thirty pounds. What on this planet could scare him? Baker’s thoughts would soon be answered.
Thompson stood shakily as his colleagues approached, his floppy blonde hair falling over his sweaty brow. With a trembling hand he brushed the long, fine strands away from his forehead, the raised arm revealing large patches of wetness spreading out across his armpits. Whilst Fox and in particular Baker were no slouches in the size department, the two approaching men are dwarfed by the massive bulk of the blonde behemoth standing and sweating in front of them.
“What’s going on here Dick? You made it sound like world war three had broken out,” inquired Baker in a testy voice, pulling at his falling trousers to prevent his bouncy frame pushing them further south. With the way Thompson had sounded he expected to see the school in flames or fallen to rubble but despite the dishevelled appearance of his constable there were no signs of anything that could have caused his distress. He should have known it would be a wild goose chase. Nothing ever happened in this small town except for the occasional lost cat, broken window or underage drinking call. Sure, the town had problems, especially a burgeoning pot smoking issue amongst the teenagers in the winding estates of the north, but nothing that would have caused the fear in his deputy’s voice. Well, nothing he’d yet seen.
“Inside... It’s... It’s... It’s inside,” stuttered Thompson in a still impressively booming low pitch as he waved his shaking hand towards the front door of the school.
“Okay, Dick I want you to calm down. Are you calm?” Baker’s tone shifted to that of concern. Thompson took a deep breath and nodded. “Good, now what the fuck is going on here?” the sergeant undid his words of pacification in record timing. Turning, he glimpsed Fox rolling his eyes. Bastard, he thinks to himself. He looks back towards his PC to continue his berating but is stopped in his tracks by the sight of the giant constable’s face contorting in a way he’d never seen before and tears welling in his eyes.
“I think it might be best if we see for ourselves, eh, sarge,” Fox’s gruff voice came from behind them. Baker turned scowling towards the constable before nodding reluctantly. Fox was a smart man. Too smart. He’d only been with the department a couple of months after arriving to replace the retiring Jim Ford, but he was slowly worming his way into its fabric. Prior to the transfer, he’d plied his trade in Sheffield as a beat cop before, suddenly and without any real reason, picking up sticks and moving back to the Lock to be nearer his family. Or so that’s what he told them. Baker didn’t trust him all that much: an educated man like him, he had bachelors’ degree in law or something like that, at the age of thirty-five moving to some two-bit town in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t ring true. Why would a young man drag his wife and baby girl out to the sticks without a promotion waiting for him? Besides, he’d lived in this village all his life, some fifty-six years, and he’d never heard of a Fox family living in the Lock or anywhere near it. It was safe to say the police sergeant wasn’t the most trusting of individuals and old age only added fuel to his cantankerous fire.
“Yeah, you’re right. Thompson, you wait here while me and Fox check things out. Okay?” The relief in Thompson’s face was undeniable, and he sagged onto the bottom step, shrinking his huge frame into the cold stone.
Baker cast a final withering look at his constable before he and Fox climbed the steep steps towards the school’s front door. Its huge frame towered overhead making the warm summer air feel suddenly cold and a shiver ran down both men’s spines as the inlaid dragons, lions and snakes of the school crests glared down at them.
Fucking school, Baker thought. It had been forty years since he had last walked out of those doors for the last time as a pupil and nothing had changed. He hated the place. Stuck up teachers, stuck up pupils and stuck up parents. He dreaded every day and would do anything he could to feign illness and avoid attendance. The feeling of relief he felt leaving that world behind was immeasurable and one of the best moments of his miserable childhood. But now he was walking back into it and, even though this was not the first time he had returned, the dread and apprehension was back
Baker reached the top first but Fox’s hand on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks. He turned angrily towards the tall officer who said nothing in return but reached down and drew his Taser, signaling to Baker that he should do the same. The sergeant was loath to admit his despised colleague was right again, but his time in the city made him far more qualified to deal with sticky situations and with how terrified Thompson was this must be stickier than glue. Quickly, he fumbled in his holster and, after a few missed gropes, released his own weapon and pulled it up to shoulder height. He’d never been an advocate of arming the English police with firearms but looking over the small plastic sight of the electricity spitting toy made him wish he had the cold reassuring steal of a real gun in his hand.
Raising his eyes, a glint of light caused him to pause and steady his gaze on bottom of the door’s huge frame. A thick, shiny liquid oozed through a crack at its base, creating a deep red pool that lapped his boots on the top step before cascading slowly down the stairs. He lifted his foot into the air. Dark, sticky droplets fell to the floor, glistening in the dim summer moonlight, reminding Baker of the black treacle his mom put in the parkin she baked at Halloween. The strange metallic smell in his nostrils told him the puddle at his feet wasn’t the same sweet liquid. Another shudder passed over him. He reached for the handle and turned it, giving the door a push at the same time. It didn’t move; it was stuck fast.
“Stop gawking and give me a hand with this Fox,” Baker barked angrily at his constable.
The two men put their shoulders to the door and gave it a hard push. It still didn’t move. They tried again with the same fruitless result. Baker was about to send for the enforcer battering ram from the car when suddenly the door burst open and the two police men fell into the wood-paneled entrance hallway of the school, stumbling and tripping straight into the stooped figure of a man as they did. Pulling himself upright Baker stared into the darkness. Although it was difficult to get a good look at the man, he appeared to be in his mid-thirties, with a balding head and a thin frame. He wore a white shirt torn from shoulder to waist on the right-hand side, and blue trousers with turned up bottoms that were equally ripped at the knees. At least Baker assumed the shirt was white. He couldn’t tell as the vast majority of it was stained red with what he assumed was blood. The man’s face and thinning head of hair were equally covered and in his right hand a large kitchen knife swung slowly backwards and forwards like a pendulum. Baker recognised the man immediately as Henry Parkes, the Head of English at the school and someone he knew to be well regarded by the students and teachers. On the few occasions they’d crossed paths, normally when visiting some of the school’s more interesting pupils, he came across as well-intentioned but arrogant man.
Baker looked towards Fox with a degree of desperation, unsure what to do next, but the constable was paying no attention. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, staring into the darkness. Slowly Baker followed his gaze. Beyond them, at the end of the short corridor that led from the open doorway to the large amphitheater style assembly hall was a sight that would stay with them until they died. Hanging from the ceiling by what looked like part of his own entrails was the head teacher of the school, Mr. Hicks, his body splayed open from throat to navel and his rib cage pushed back from either side of his chest so it sprung upwards like a pair of deathly wings. His motionless heart and lungs were clearly visible and intestines hung from the body like strings of sausage forming a snake like pool on the floor that pulsed and writhed in the dim light of the corridor. A stream of blood spread from under the teacher’s dangling carcass as it made its way across the floor and out of the doorway, creating the dark, viscous waterfall running down the front steps of the school. Blood was everywhere. It ran down the walls and dripped from the ceiling. The glass windows of the assembly hall glowed from a thick layer of the crimson liquid, painting everything not already coated a dull red.
Baker’s mind raced, his stomach twisted with nausea and his heart attempted to burst from his chest. Surely all the blood hadn’t come from the body that swung gently in the warm breeze wafting through the now open doorway? The question is left unanswered.
“Put down the weapon,” Fox yelled at the man, his Taser pointing squarely at his face.
Baker hesitates, mouth ajar in complete shock before rallying and raising his own weapon. “Put it down or I will fire,” he yelled, again lamenting the lack of a real gun. The man looked confused as he moved his blood covered gaze from Baker to Fox and back again as if trying to comprehend why two burly police men were shouting and pointing what looked like guns at him. The knife dropped from his grasp with a clunk and he sagged to his knees, pulling his head into his hands as he did.
“We need paramedics and back up at King Henry School immediately,” Baker spoke with urgency into the radio clipped to his collar.
“SHHKHSHT… Wh.. SHKSHHH… Why?” came the hissing response.
“Just do it. NOW.”
“SKKSHHT… OK SHHHKT.”
Fox approached the silent, hunched figure, Taser still raised. As he passed the knife, he kicked it in Baker’s direction. With the blood-soaked teacher within arm’s reach, he reached down with his right hand whilst groping for his handcuffs behind his back with the left. His outstretched grasp was barely an inch from Parkes’ shoulder when suddenly the teacher’s blood-stained neck arched violently backwards revealing a face contorted in total fear. Wide, bulging eyes glared through the glistening red streaks on his brow and forehead as he stared towards the ceiling. Fox jumped backwards; his finger pushing down on the trigger with increasing force. He was about to shoot when the man leaned forward, every muscle in his body pulsing with tension, and opened his mouth...
Outside Thompson had moved further away from the door and was sitting on a wall to the side of the school's driveway. He watched as the sergeant and constable entered the large doorway, his hands still shaking as he groped around in his shirt pocket for a cigarette. After much fumbling, he finally managed to get one out and into his mouth before lighting it and taking a massive drag of much needed nicotine. For the first time in a long while he was glad he hadn’t bowed to his wife and daughters pressure to quit the habit.
He looked back at the school its mouth now fully ajar giving an aura of misplaced welcome and though he tried he couldn’t get the images from beyond that doorway out of his mind. He forced himself to look away, turning his gaze down the driveway towards the farmer’s fields that peppered the landscape. Although it was dark, he could still hear the noises of the countryside and smell the musky odour of rapeseed growing nearby. It was mid-summer and the crops would be in full bloom turning the fields a sea of yellow. He took another drag from the cigarette, relaxing his shoulders as the drug took effect and the warm summer air brushed gently over him. The night was reassuringly calm and the stars shone brightly onto the peaceful looking country scene. Maybe this is just a dreamhe thought as he looked up. Maybe any minute I’ll roll over and see Suzie sound asleep by my side and hear the laughing of Marnie from the next room and none of this will have happened. Maybe everything is still normal and the things I’ve seen are from a dark part of my imagination I’ve never encountered before.
For a moment he felt at peace, the heat and thoughts of his family calming his mind. For a moment the things he’d seen didn’t exist.
But then came the screaming.
©2017 Ian Ford