…And This Is Me

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Satan’s Schoolgirls

girl silhouette.jpgI should mention this, shouldn’t I? The observant amongst you, Readership, will have noticed the ranty banner at the top of the page. Let’s reiterate the message. For the first time, the entire text of my first novel, the St. Trinian’s meets Lord of The Flies mashup Satan’s Schoolgirls is available, gratis, free and without charge. Click on the link, or here, to send a PDF copy flying to your downloads folder.

Would you like a copy in ePub, or as a Kindle file? That’s in the works, as is the ultimate aim – a paperback version. This will be print on demand, most likely through the lovely people at Createspace, and is – well, imminent. For the meantime, enjoy the story. Please, give me feedback. I’d love to know at which point you feel it all went horribly wrong.

Satan’s Schoolgirls – Chapter Three

Yes, yes, I know. Hopefully you’ve been on tenterhooks for the new chapter. Swear to god, twice weekly updates from now on. I had my head turned by an experiment with a couple of other blogging platforms that really didn’t work out. My hair is now shorter and grayer than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Aaaanyway. Chapter three.

I woke into flickering, butter-warm light. Focus came slowly, hazing in from the edges of my vision. I was laid out on a small chaise longue, covered in a rough blanket that carried a distinct tang of goat about it. I sat up, instantly regretting it as the room spun about me. I tried to catch details as they swam by. 
Book-lined walls. Candles everywhere. A desk, monolithic, carved out of a single massive oak trunk. Three figures, coming out of the gloom as I rose into a semi-sitting position. 
“There she is.” The driver, his voice warm, rough, a cat’s tongue across my face. 
“Mph.” My father. Disdain, anger, disappointment, that sharp hint of fear still, all in a single phenome. 
“So, the child finally decides to grace us with her presence.” This was new. A hard, bright voice. A chrome sphere, pitiless, impenetrable. The owner of that voice moved into my line of sight, and for the first time I saw the face of my tormentor. 
She was beautiful. Sharp, perfectly carved features, a wide warm mouth with a touch of a smile at the corners. Eyes as blue as a summer Oxford sky. Even in the nun’s habit that imprisoned her, there were hints of a firm womanly figure that only became more apparent as she bent down towards me. The faintest hint of corn-blonde hair escaped the confines of her wimple. She came close, close enough to whisper in my ear, her breath heated, fragrant.  
“I already know what a disappointment you’ve been to your father. Don’t make the mistake of doing the same with me. Stand before your elders, you truculent little bitch.”
She moved away sharply, and I scrambled to my feet, obeying out of utter astonishment. Swaying slightly, I tried to regain my composure, as the three adults stood around me, watching me silently. 
“You are aware, I’m sure, why you are here.” The nun again, her eyes calm and wide, her voice brutal as a vice. 
“I…” All of a sudden I wanted to explain, to tell her what an awful mistake this had all been, that surely there was another way than this.  
“No. You do not behave that way here.” In one swift, smooth movement, the nun moved forward again, and struck me once, hard, across the face. The crack of the slap was like a gunshot in the tiny room. I put my hand to my cheek, already warming under the blow. My father looked on, impassively. The driver’s jaw tightened, but he too did nothing.  
“Here is your first lesson in this school.” The nun was back in place, her slim hands folded serenely in front of her. “You speak to an adult only when you are given permission to do so. You obey any and all instructions given to you by an adult instantly and without question. You adhere strictly to the timetables and strictures given to you, again without question. You eat when we tell you. You sleep when we tell you. You learn when we tell you. Within this structure, you will learn obedience, and eventually become rehabilitated to your home and your parents. Do you understand?”
She had used the same voice, the same intonation that my father had always used when scolding me. Here, though, while he had always blazed with anger, the nun’s tone was cold, controlled. There was no respite here, and it was abundantly clear that she meant every word. I looked around frantically. There was no comfort, no support in any of the three faces that looked so intently at me. For now, I had no choice.
“Yes,” I said. 
“Good. You were unaware of the restrictions placed on you when you entered this establishment, which is why you got off as lightly as you did. If you disobey me again, you will find me considerably less lenient. Do you understand?” 
“Yes,” I said.  
“Very well.” She motioned to the driver. “You’ve already met McCaffrey, our groundsman. He’s doubtless tried to ingratiate himself with you.”
McCaffrey winked at me. I nodded, unsure as to whether I had been asked a direct question or not. 
“Don’t be fooled by him. McCaffrey’s responsibilities include the security of our perimeter. He views any potential escapee from the school in a very dim light.”
McCaffrey shrugged. “She docks my pay if I let any of you brats oot. Nothin’ personal, hen. But no schoolgirl stands between me and my paycheck.”
“Besides which,” the nun continued, “there is nowhere for you to go. The nearest village is Pitlochery, back along the path you’ve just come from. Ten miles on a very bad road. We’re surrounded on three sides by gorse land and swamp, and on the other we’re facing, well…” 
She tilted her head, and the booming cannonade I’d heard earlier thrummed again, low, almost a vibration rather than sound. It had been there since I’d woken, but I’d only noticed it now that it was brought to my attention. 
“That’s the Atlantic Ocean,” the nun said. “This school is situated on Cape Wrath, as nor-westerly as it gets.” She waved a hand at the wide bay window that dominated one end of her room. Heavy serge curtains were pulled across it, and they moved faintly in an unfelt breeze. 
“There’s an escape route for you, child. You have two choices. Iceland or America. You may need a swimming costume.”
She smiled. It was a sharp thing, as thin as my chances, ugly as a knife slash on her beautiful face. 
“Now, it’s late. You chose a most inconvenient time to arrive. The rest of the school is asleep, and I see no reason to disturb your classmates unnecessarily. You will sleep here tonight, and I will introduce you to the school at morning assembly.” She indicated the chaise longue. “It’ll be the last night in a while that you enjoy such luxury.”
My father shifted abruptly, swinging his coat, which he had been carrying in one crooked arm, back across his shoulder. “Well, if that’s everything. I understand the train back to Inverness arrives at dawn. I can sleep at the station until then. I’m sure we’d all like to get some sleep. It’s been a long day.”
The nun looked quizzically at him. “You’re sure you won’t stay here? McCaffrey could put you up at the lodge.” There was a hint of amusement there, and I suddenly noticed how discomforted my father was. He was desperate to get away. From the school. From me. 
“I couldn’t intrude. Although I’d beg mister McCaffrey’s indulgence if he could give me a lift back to Pitlochery.”
“Nae bother,” McCaffrey deadpanned. “I love driving a dirt track at night. Maybe it’ll rain, just tae add spice.”
They were mocking him. They saw that all he wanted was to dump me and run, and they were making him squirm for it. The nun and the driver had as little respect for the man as I did. 
The difference being, they could show it without fear of the consequences.
“Very well, then.” The nun turned away slightly, and my father’s shoulder’s sagged in relief. “Child? Do you have anything you wish to say before your father leaves?”
Of course I did. Why are you doing this? What have I done? Why do you hate me? What can I do to make you forgive me, to get you to scoop me up and take me away from this awful place?
But I was a good, and respectful daughter. I did only what I was told.
“Goodbye, father.”
He looked at me then. There was something there, in the corners of the unreadable expression he wore, a glimmer of emotion that I rarely saw in him. I like to think it was regret. 
Thinking back, it’s more likely to have been relief. 
And he was gone. A brisk handshake with McCaffrey. He held out a hand to the nun, and she looked at it with the same sense of quiet amusement. After a moment, he realised, and snatched it away. McCaffrey stifled a grin. 
As he walked away, I willed him to stop, to turn, to look back, to acknowledge what he was leaving behind. He never did.
His bowed, receding back was the last I would see of him through innocent eyes. 
The nun dimmed the lights in her room, gave me back the goaty blanket and a hard bolster, and put me to bed. She tucked me up with an almost tender gesture. 
“And despite all that, we were never formally introduced,” she said. You should know the name of your mistress. And you should tell me yours.”
“My name is Nell,” I said. “Nell Thorne.”
“Good evening, Nell. You will call me by my married name. I am Sister Serenity.”
I nodded. It was an appropriate name. I could see in those luminous blue eyes the things she was capable of, and how little they would affect her. She would drift on the surface of her atrocities like a swan, and they would be faint ripples in the water. She knew she was correct in all things, and that any threat to that certainty would be met, judged and punished mercilessly. In many ways I would prefer that to my father’s anger, his cant, his insecurity. He had never known how to deal with me. 
Sister Serenity would have no such problem. 
“Nell, try to rest,” Sister Serenity said. “Your first day at school will be draining. I can promise you that.”
And with that, to my utter astonishment, she lent over, and kissed me on the forehead. “Goodnight, Nell,” she said. “Welcome to your new home. Welcome to St. Anne’s School For Wayward Girls.”
That night, I dreamed of my mother. The boom of the Atlantic outside the huge bay window lulled me into a strange half doze, and the shadows drifted into unsettling shapes. Faces, hands, a masque of shade and dim light. 
Through it all, mother came to me, her face bright with tears. Her hair drifted around her pale thin face as if she was underwater. Her eyes were empty hollows. She reached out to me, calling my name, her voice a far-off echo. 
“Forgive me,” she said. “Forgive me, I made you like this. I brought this on you.”
I woke, sobbing, to dawn light. She had refused to see me when we left the Maidenhead house. She had not said goodbye. All I had heard as we left was the sound of her weeping. 

Satan’s Schoolgirls – Chapter Two


The charabanc was a rattling old Humber in worn brown, which smelt of petrol, tobacco and wet moss. The driver was a thin twist of dark leather. He chewed constantly on the ends of the ragged walrus moustache that took up most of the lower half of his face. He inhabited a worn driver’s uniform that had room in it for at least one lodger, if they could bear the insanitary conditions. 

“Yer for the school,” he said, his voice as wet and frayed as his facial hair. It was not a question. Why else would we be here? It was cold, pitch black, utterly isolated. I could feel the shapes of the mountains around us pressing in, looming just beyond the reach of the station’s inadequate electrical lights. 

Father nodded, and the driver slung my baggage into the back of the bus with a strength that belied his size. Maybe there was someone else in that comedy uniform after all to help him do the heavy lifting. Certainly, he took half the time to do the job that my father had made such a meal of at Inverness. 

Finally, we were squared away. My father swung himself into the shotgun seat in the cab, and sat waiting. The driver considered me thoughtfully for a moment, then swung open the driver’s side door and held out a hand to me. 

“Yer carriage awaits, mamselle,” he said. I took his hand. It was warm, as dry and hard as old hide. With a courtly bow, he spun me up and into the cab, moving swiftly up beside me and nudging me along the bench. I was comfortably wedged in between the two men.

“Perfect,” the driver burred. “It’s nae the smoothest road up to the school. Cannae be havin’ the young lady bouncing around like an untethered lamb, now.” He grinned at my father. Well, there was an upward shift in the general attitude of the moustache. My father looked back, impassively.  

“Let’s get on, then,” he said. “The sooner this is over with the better.”

The driver matched his gaze for a moment, then nodded and turned his attention to the engine. “Aye,” he said, just quietly enough for me to hear. “They usually put it like that.” Then he started the charabanc. The engine fired with a harsh, coughing throb. He smoothly guided it down the single-track road, and soon the lights of the station were swallowed in the darkness. 

As the driver had warned, the road was more of a cattle track than a working highway, and we were soon jouncing about like fairground rides, the unoiled springs of the suspension squeaking out a traveling song. However, the wiry Scotsman knew the road well, and smoothly guided the creaking old bus around the worst of the obstacles. Wedged in tightly between the two solid, warm men on either side of me, I was soon lulled into a drowse. 

The dull illumination of the Humber’s lights shone barely ten yards in front of us. There was no moon, yet the night was luminous, the stars blazing in the clear dark air. The mountains around us cut that riotous show in half. You saw them only in the way they blocked the sky.  

In my dozing state, I had no idea how long it took to get from the station to Cape Wrath. It seemed like moments before the driver nudged me gently in the side.

“Wake up, lassie,” he breathed. “We’re here.”

I looked up. We had stopped before a massive set of wrought iron gates, easily twenty feet tall. The lights from the charabanc splashed over them, sending shadowy grids across the high stone walls on either side. These loomed away into the black, seemingly endless. Rough-finished, impenetrable. Their tops were frosted with jagged shapes that glinted in the feeble headlight glow. 

Glass, I realised with a shock. Shards of broken glass. This was like no school entrance I had ever seen. It was as forbidding as a prison. 

“Aye,” the driver said. “They always look like that, once they see the gates.” The look on his face was one I had not seen in a very long time. Something like sympathy. Something like pity. 

He hopped out of the cab, and swiftly pulled the gates open. They came apart with an unlubricated scream. I would hear something very like that a lot in the coming months. Then we were away, down a narrow avenue lined with gnarled, bare elms, the headlights flaring nightmarish shadows through their empty branches. Talons. Demon masks. Wounds made in light.

“It’s not as bad as it looks, lassie,” the driver said. 

And we turned a corner, and I saw the school for the first time. 

It was a clawed hand, rearing into the night sky, yearning to scrape the stars out of the velvet black. It was a fortress, an impenetrable obstacle against an unending flood of heathen hordes. It was a prison, a zoo, a madhouse, the castle of an evil wizard, the lair of the witch, the house of the beast. 

I reared back in my seat in horror. There was a roaring in my ears, a boom of cannonade, a bellow from the throat of a dragon. I was ten. The furthest I had ever been before was to Oxford on a day trip, and the dreaming spires had overwhelmed me then. Now, suddenly, I was on the north-western apex of Scotland, the air was full of salt and nightmares, and I was being confronted with Gormenghast. 

Reader, I fainted. I popped a fuse, blew a breaker and fell into blissful unconsciousness.

“Isnae so bad,” the driver told my father. “Normally they throw up too.”

Satan’s Schoolgirls – Chapter One

PART ONE
NOVEMBER

Chapter One

The journey from Berkshire up to the school took twelve hours, and my father and I spent most of that time in silence. As the train clattered through a landscape that became more colourless and desolate as we headed north, I tried to make sense of the emotions he would sometimes allow to flit across his stony visage. I was used to see him angry and sad, but crammed in the confines of the smoky, humid second-class carriage where we’d formed a tiny base camp made up from my trunks and valises, he allowed his defences to slip enough to show me something new.
Fear. Every time he looked at me now, he looked afraid.

I knew better than to ask where this had come from. As we stepped onto the train at Maidenhead, he had fixed me with the look I had come to recognise as the precursor to the laying down of a new law.

“There will be no conversation on this train,” he said. “There will be no idle chit-chat, no musing on the state of the country, no speculation on the marital status or love lives of those idiotic movie stars you seem to find so fascinating. I expect to hear nothing from you until I put you into the care of the staff at St. Anne’s, and at that point the only words I wish to hear from you will be “Goodbye, Father.” Do I make myself adequately clear?”

I nodded mutely. Arguments were utterly pointless when father spoke to me like that, although Lord knows I’d tried enough times. It was like running into a brick wall and, if I got him angry enough, would raise the same kind of bruises.

So, twelve hours in a train with a man who had forbidden me to speak, who had not provided me with a book, a magazine, or any kind of entertainment apart from the view from the besmeared window. After I tired of watching my father, I settled myself into a cramped corner and watched the sky cycle steadily from blue to a deep, bloody red. I was not a dreamer, and was incapable of the kind of pointless babble that had been put under embargo. It showed how little he knew of me. I contented myself with the sky, and the cheese sandwich he wordlessly handed to me at lunchtime from the brown paper bag that was his only luggage. They were scant comfort for a girl of ten who was about to be abandoned by her family, 500 miles from home.

We changed trains at Inverness in rapidly failing twilight. My father, cursing under his breath at the lack of porters, somehow managed to manhandle my baggage onto the much smaller local service that would take us through to the coast. As light relief, he enjoyed a hissed altercation with a gentleman in a tight tweed suit who tried manoeuvering himself into our carriage, in the thin gap remaining between my steamer trunk and me. It was a pointless argument really. As my father made it clear using words I’d never heard from him before, we were the only three passengers on the train.

Once we disembarked at Pitlotchery, the darkness was absolute. The gentleman in the tweed suit watched us as we waited on the platform for the charabanc to take us on the final leg of the journey. He mouthed a single word at my father, a word that twisted his face into an angry mask. His face was livid in the light flooding out of the train compartment as it pulled away. Father shook his head as the train shouldered its way into the blackness at the end of the platform.

“The thing about idiots,” he said, “is that you’ll never have to worry about looking for them. They’ll always find you.” It was the first thing he’d said to me since we’d crossed the border into Scotland.

Satan’s Schoolgirls – Prologue

Beginning today, I am serialising my first novel, written in a fume of creative smog in the winter of 2006, and spring of 2007. The reasons for this are numerous, but break down into a couple of major components. 

Firstly, obviously, I want to get it out there, so people can have a look and hopefully respond to it. At the end of the serialisation, I’ll be offering signed copies of the book via Lulu, featuring original cover artwork by yours truly, and a couple of extra surprises. 
Second of all, I want to play around with the pacing a little, and there are still some rough edges to rub a stone over. Doing this editorial work in public might seem suicidal, but it’s the best way I can think of to actually get the work done, instead of sitting around moping about how the book’s not finished. So, for those lucky few of you that have already seen a draft of this – there will be changes. 
So, here we are then. I’ll tag every episode with something meaningful, so if you do a search on “Satan’s Schoolgirls” you should be able to find everything fairly easily. 
Welcome. 

SATAN’S SCHOOLGIRLS 
A cheap horror movie by Rob Wickings 
“Bad natures never lack an instructor.”
Publilius Syrus, Sententiae 
For Clare. My education. 
PROLOGUE – FIFTEEN YEARS LATER  
I have led a life filled with regret, replete with sorrow. Any moments of joy have been soured and flattened by that understanding. There can be no respite from it.Yet somehow, I have come to accept this state of affairs. Somehow, I have come to find a kind of grace in the sadness. 
Until now. The painfully delicate, exquisitely balanced life support machine I have built is gone, blasted away in an instant, leaving me alone again, unprotected. I sit quietly, strangling a cold cup of coffee in a knotted grip, and watch the evening news. 
A reporter, trussed in scarf and thick coat, buffeted in the violent wind scything across the gorse land (I feel it now, the way it bites through wool and jersey, always with enough moisture in it to soak you through, to wear you down, to pull you under) braces herself against the cold, and tells the story of the derelict building in the background. 
Even now it’s hard to look at it. Although St. Anne’s is a skeleton, there are still shapes in the stones that sketch themselves against the rubble. With a start I see that the dormitory I spent the worst months of my life in still stands, intact against all reason, against all wishes. The camera moves on, showing the chapel, the assembly hall, the kitchen block, no more than a single crumbling wall and a hint of foundation now. 
Around the building, the cranes are gathering, insectoid, prehistoric. They tilt their tiny heads and gnaw at the brickwork, drooling rubble. Smaller scavengers, trucks in canary yellow, scoot in to carry away choice scraps. Before my eyes, it seems, St. Anne’s is disappearing into the mists from where it came when I first saw it. 
The girl in the big coat whitters on, her carefully constructed hairdo gone to chaos in the approaching storm. I will her silently not to make a connection in this, not to use the coincidence for a glib one-liner. 
Don’t say the name, I beg her. Don’t tell the story. Above all, don’t show the sign. 
My wishes are pointless little things, lost in the noise of the wind. She is there because of the story, because of the things that happened there, the lives that were lost. Without them, this would be the simple demolition of an old building grown dangerous in its old age, put down before it could cause any more harm. There would be no news report, no pretty girl, no camera.
 As if that would ever end it. The damage that place did to me, and to the other women who I have no doubt are watching the same programme as I, with the same haunted look, will never end. The girls who survived the fire, the storm. The girls who promised themselves they would never talk about the turning cross, the Dark law.
Or Epiphany Davies. And Cathaerin Halberd. And Sister Serenity. 
And Mother Mercy. If nothing else, they do not let the name of the Scourge of St. Anne’s out into the world. Silence, at least, they can manage. They can protect themselves with that. 
And, I, on my sofa in my quiet suburban home, watching the girl reporter, her hair going down for the third time as she motions the camera to pan once more around the charnel house of my memories, I realise that unlike my classmates, silence can no longer help me. Our old school has held it’s secrets for long enough. The time has come, as dust claims the school, to tell the tale of how it was lost. The part that I played in its destruction.