Mischief (i) – Cold Open

It was the middle of winter term, and the weather was out to prove it. Snow besieged the Hermann Academy, smothering the grounds, bombarding the walls, and lashing into anybody unfortunate enough to be outside. Even in the summer, the Academy was a model of faux-gothic isolation. Now, it all but disappeared into the blizzard and the valley. At this time of year, it became a world unto itself. Of course, that was largely the point of a boarding school. The headmaster (and all his predecessors) felt that a contained environment, far from the homes of the students, was necessary for a proper education. ‘Home’ was a byword for chaos, a state of pandemonium into which a teacher’s hands could scarcely reach. Better to eliminate it. He would gladly have relocated to an island in the sky, or the city of Atlantis. Given the failure of those options, a snowbound valley in the highlands was as good as it got. Staff and students alike were now imprisoned by the elements, sentenced to a long winter of study, community, and personal growth. At least, that was the idea. And since it had been the idea for a couple of centuries at this point, things were going to stay that way.

Another advantage of all that distance from society was that it made any unsavoury business much, much easier to contain. Adolescence tended to invoke trouble, and even the teachers were only human. Over the Academy’s history, it had become quite clear that concepts such as ‘crime’, ‘reckless endangerment’ and ‘horror’ existed only in the eye of the beholder. Right now, any beholders would have a hard time even seeing the building, let alone anything that was going on inside. In other words, the wilderness was also an impenetrable defence against scandal. It was an advantage that the institution had leveraged generously over its metropolitan rivals. In education, as in all things, some measure of disaster is inevitable. A shrewd leader ensured that such things were resolved in private rather than in public.

The shrewd leader of the age, their Headmaster, had just stormed in and out of Ms. Solomon’s office like some kind of fusty berserker. ‘There’s been an incident’, he had said. ‘Get on it.’ It was a parsimonious sort of leadership. She rubbed her temples, having been interrupted from her reading. It seemed the task of resolution had fallen to her on this occasion. Some practical joke or act of petty vandalism, presumably. The students never seemed to get bored of those. She would just have to locate and slap the relevant wrists. Not the most elucidating use of her evening, but not too difficult.

She heard the headmaster barking in the corridor. This was swiftly followed by a rather flustered member of the custodial staff stumbling through the door – one Mr. Randall. This meant that the incident probably occurred in the boys’ dormitories (Ms. Solomon happened to have memorised the janitors’ schedule). He was in a cold sweat, looking like he’d seen one or more ghosts, with a small vomit-stain on his jacket. Either he’d already caught his death of the cold, or it was a particularly lurid one this time. Teenage boys did have a peculiar fondness for excreta. Randall ushered her to the scene, remaining silent as they barrelled down the halls. It was past curfew, and so the students were all neatly sequestered away with their assigned peers. Still, there was always a certain static in the air whenever something like this happened. Even from behind locked doors, they had an unnatural sense for trouble.

Randall stopped in front of one of the empty rooms, on the extremities of the building. He gestured mildly at the door, and insisted that she do the honours of opening it.

The first thing she noticed was the blood, which was everywhere except the ceiling. Then, the carcass of what looked to be a feral goat, minus the head and hooves, split open down the middle. Then, the smell of those two things – fresh and disgusting, like raw steak, tripe, and hair. She turned to Randall, whose face conveyed some unique combination of solidarity and residual panic. There was a timely shriek from the wind outside.

“Jesus.” She said.

“Yup.”

She looked back at the room. It was still there.

“So… what do you think?” Asked Randall.

“I don’t know.” She replied. “I’m just a history teacher.”

End (i)

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