DOORS & WINDOWS
Mr Column, stood beneath a suspended plant pot that topped the window outside, was bone dry. Neither his hair or his coat were blowing with the wind. By this point the rain was so heavy around him that large pools of water had formed in dips in the shingle where cars had driven through. I could see rainwater dropping onto his shoulders as it spilled from the pot, but there appeared to be no impact splash. He stared back, and shrugged as if to suggest I should be doing something I wasn't. He then pointed toward the entrance, pushed his index finger against his thumb and made a turning motion with them. I called to Mrs Tapscott that Mr Column had arrived and that he couldn't get in. She looked puzzled and made her way through the double doors to the offices and reception area. I turned back to see Mr Column walking calmly off to my left. I ran after Mrs Tapscott, through the double doors to find her talking to Mr Column through a letterbox, from which a beam of sunlight pierced the darkness of the windowless entrance hall. My skin tingled.
As Mrs Tapscott explored the entrance hall of Victoria House for light switches, Mr Column held open the letterbox to allow the sun in. Peering through it, I could see nothing but darkness outside, despite the light that shone through on our side of the door. I could hear thunder and the sound of heavy rain, but Mr Column insisted he was bathed in winter sun, even stating in bad taste that the residents behaviours were rubbing off. Eventually, after every office accessible from the reception had been explored, Mrs Tapscott made her way up a flight of stairs and ordered me back into the main hall as she ascended. Mr Column stated he would make his way back to the car. I did as I was told and decided that if I sat and read a book, nothing bad would happen and time would pass quickly until the bearded man returned.
I had been carrying Summonitores Libro in the back of my trousers, hidden under my school blazer. Having flicked through the first three pages, my interest had been instantly peaked by the bizarre images and decided it was worth the risk and the wrath of my father to sneak it out of Victoria House and get it home. I had time to have a closer look and so took a seat in the reading corner to digest the content. Much to my annoyance, the book was written in a foreign language. I examined the images, most of them animals reminiscent of the kind in Dungeons and Dragons. Along with beasts from known fantasy lore, like fairies and the manticore, were demons, horned clouds and wisps riding bulls and warthogs. The images were illustrated beautifully in black ink, the vision of each monster realised with a shading style that made them bulge from the pages. After an hour or so had passed, I heard the door swing, lifted my eyes from the page and saw Mrs Tapscott stride across the hall to the bottle green door. As she went through, I noticed Mrs Rabasandratana had entered without me noticing. She was staring at me.
Mrs Rabasandratana continued to glare at me from the opposite side of the hall. As much as I tried to avoid looking straight back, I couldn't for fear of losing track of her. A series of much shorter vignettes of my imminent death had been playing in my mind. I closed the book, put it on the floor and struck up the courage to ask if she was okay. She stood from her wheelchair and began a painfully slow walk toward me. I could hear her muttering something in a foreign language. I again asked if she was okay before her slow walk turned into a full on sprint. I gripped the arms of the chair as the muttering became full on screeching. I peeled back and closed my eyes once I realised I had delayed too long to get out of the chair and escape. Her hands were on top of mine, holding them down. I opened my eyes to find her smiling at me. She said 'the more she sacrifice, the more she gain'. She released my hands, then looking like an old woman again, hobbled back to her wheelchair. I was fast becoming a wreck. Mrs Tapscott, much to my relief, came through the green door and propped it open with a chair. The residents of Victoria House came pouring into the hall.
Mrs Tapscott, who at that point was showing no signs of panic, explained to me that the doors and windows were locked and the phones disconnected. The members of staff who were present in the morning had all abandoned the property, leaving Mrs Tapscott and myself in control of 160 people in varying degrees of distress, each dealing with either a physical or intellectual disability. She smiled softly and said that I needed to show maturity and asked if I made sandwiches at home. My mother was paranoid I would burn the house to the ground and so never allowed me anywhere near the kitchen, but a sandwich? Two slices of bread with something spread inside seemed well within my ability and so I simply said yes. Rosie was volunteered to help me prepare and we were led toward the bottle green door. On our way through, Rosie asked the Downs Syndrome man in the purple shirt if he was okay. Eyes closed and arms folded, he remained silent.
I challenged Rosie to a culinary duel. Whoever could make the most sandwiches in the shortest amount of time would win the Mars bar that we found in the fridge. Powering ahead, I noticed that she was much more concerned with creating a delicious sandwich than she was the speed at which they were made, rolling her tongue around her lips in near unbreakable concentration. I looked at my growing pile of scraggly sarnies and decided that Rosie had the right idea. We chose 3 different fillings to try and cater for every resident. I chose strawberry jam, Rosie chose peanut butter with chocolate spread and her favourite, pre-grated cheese with a chutney preserve. When we were almost done and our silver platters were piled high, I took the opportunity to question Rosie. She left me hanging on every question until she had meticulously spread and sprinkled the next layer to the very edge of the bread. She wasn't going to answer my questions until she was good and ready.
The missing girl had been planting flowers by a collection of beds close to Rosie who was doing the same, when the bearded man came to give Gilly a purple shirt. She mentioned the bearded man, named Simon, had led Gilly away into Victoria House. Then came second hand testimony about Gary, the purple shirt man sat in the hall, who had witnessed a worm, or the long monster, emerge from the ground in the main hall and eat the girl. When asked why residents were wearing purple shirts and why they couldn't be spoken too, Rosie suggested that they had been naughty at various points during the day. I wondered what DI Broad would make of that information. I told myself the police could make sense of it and that I would have to report it to my father as soon as I arrived home. I said to Rosie that we could stop making sandwiches and offered her the Mars bar. As I handed it over, I saw she had made an impressive Star of David with her central pile of sandwiches.
As we re-entered the main hall, I noticed the residents had been been separated into two groups. The ones on the right side of the hall were facing away from the windows, the ones on the left, all wearing purple shirts, facing toward it. Perhaps oddly, Mrs Tapscott said that those wearing purple could eat, but only after the others had already finished. I wondered why she would be enforcing the unnecessary punishments of Simon, confirming in my mind an established link between my teacher and the staff of Victoria House that went beyond arranging the occasional field trip to teach big-mouthed kids a lesson. I kept my eye on her as myself and Rosie, armed with sandwiches, walked the lines between the pensive looking residents. Behaviourally, they were in stark contrast to the residents wearing purple shirts who repeatedly asked to re-attire, claimed to need the toilet despite numerous visits and overall displayed signs of high anxiety. With every request one of them made, others would put their hands up and ask exactly the same thing, like a word plague that spread throughout the group in near synchronous waves. Seemingly, they were desperate to extricate themselves from whatever situation they had perceived themselves to be in. I surmised that Gary had worked the group up with talk of long monsters. He was with the purple shirt group of residents, though unlike the others, said nothing and stared through the windows of the hall.
At 4pm, sandwiches distributed, I found myself staring out of the windows again. An old fashioned lamp on the driveway had come on, likely on a timer to light the way on short winter days. Rain fell with impossible ferocity, though the windows remained free of droplets. Bushes were dragged in every direction across the shingle, pulling small stones and dried leaves from the ground which would become briefly airborne, giving the uprooted flora the form of a living creature. I couldn't work out if any of it was even happening.
I could see Mr Column's car moving up the shingle path, this time accompanied by a fire truck and a police car a short distance behind. Relieved, I waved excitedly at them. I was surprised to see my father get out of the police vehicle along with DI Broad. I promptly put my hands by my side. I wanted him to see that I had coped well in this unusual situation and I certainly didn't want to provide him with additional storytelling material. Once they had all emerged from their vehicles, they briefly huddled as a group before DI Broad went to the back of the police car, opened the door and roughly led Simon, in handcuffs, to the attention of the huddle. Mrs Tapscott appeared beside me, gave a tut and said 'Simon, you fool'. Mr Column began walking toward the window. When he got within a few feet, I saw him look upward, then slowly back away. I heard Gary shout 'worm' from behind me. I turned to find him on his feet pointing out of the window. I jerked my head around to see Mr Column running toward his car and something large slithering at speed toward him across the shingle. The creature was quickly in front of Mr Column. It made the sound of an idle motorcycle as it reared, its head opening up into several circular rows of teeth. The creature then rested in its position, before quickly jerking forward and back. Mr Column had instinctively raised his arms which were missing hands, his bloodied stumps swiping at the air where his head used to be.
My father and DI Broad had quickly noticed the creature and dragged Simon into the back of the police car. I watched as it turned to one of the firefighters, pushing its head between his legs and launching him so far into the air it took several seconds from him to plummet onto the hood of the police car. As he made impact, the creature slammed its head onto his chest, flipping the car a full 360 degrees. The other firefighter, armed with a high pressure hose, fired at the worm, which balled up and rolled away out of view. My father, Broad and Simon, now uncuffed, clambered from the vehicle and into the cabin of the fire truck. With full acceleration the truck hurtled down the shingle path, weaved through the trees in the adjacent field and back toward Victoria House. I knew they were going to smash through the building. I shouted at the residents to stand up and run to the back of the hall, most did as instructed, a few had their hands on their cheeks, bobbing up and down with slightly bent knees. I shouted at them again, this time giving a little push to a couple before making my way to the back of the hall. I looked around to see if there were any stragglers. Mrs Tapscott hadn't moved from the window. She turned to Rosie who was sat calmly in the reading corner and said 'sorry, but no more' and turned to face forward.
The fire truck smashed through the windows, pulling Mrs Tapscott under the wheels and ejecting wood, brick and glass debris across the hall. Collective screams and yelps from the residents drowned out most of the impact sound. Dust circulated in the air, whisked by the cool breeze coming in from the gaps around the fire truck, which was only half way inside the building. The door of the fire truck opened and a body dropped onto the floor, shards of glass were embedded in the firefighters face and neck. My father thudded onto the floor beside him, looking like he had done nothing but take a casual stroll. DI broad opened the door on the other side. He had a large weeping gash across his forehead, as he dabbed it with a handkerchief, I noticed his little finger was bent at a right angle. Simon emerged last, largely unscathed, with the exception of a cut on his right eyebrow. My father lurched around the truck, grabbed Simon with one giant hand around his neck and said 'you failed to mention when questioned there was a massive fucking snake that rips peoples heads off'. He continued to berate Simon as I got on my hands and knees to look for Mrs Tapscott. I caught a glimpse of her under the truck and quickly wished I hadn't.