Like many writers, I get plenty of material from my dreams. The fiction folder on my laptop is full of snippets and pieces based on random ideas, daydreams and night-time dreams. Most rarely come to anything but recently, I’ve had a few that I really want to develop. My zombie run novelette was based on a dream I had of me and two friends going on a zombie run where there was real zombies. The potential novel I have in the works about the blue powder that covers everything also came from a dream. This following flash fiction I may develop into something later and the events pretty much cover how the dream developed.
It feels odd after all these years, walking back in through the doors. I’ve felt no particular affinity for my school – not in the way that most people do. But then the best years of my life were not my teenager years, but my early thirties when I went to university and my life changed forever. So to say that this place feels distinctly alien to me would be almost right. Sure, I recognise the corridors and the classrooms but it seems a world away.
I remembered the way to the assembly hall, it is just down the slope and in through what used to be the staff entrance. It’s open today though and I quietly slipped through the door, having a slight pang of guilt because we were never allowed through that door when I was a teenager.
I found myself in the hall where we used to eat our school meals. The old off-white curtains were still there, though probably not the same ones – they just looked like them. There were many adult age former pupils here, every generation and as I passed a couple in their sixties, it made me realise just how far back the history of this school goes. There was nobody there I recognised which was partly a shame and partly unsurprising.
The place where we collected our school meals hasn’t changed. There was still an extensive kitchen at the back and that familiar breakfast bar still had places for hot and cold food and a drinks counter. There were just a few dinner ladies there, just a couple – and they were handing out biscuits and tea and coffee – not scents we were used to back then! I wondered whether they offered anybody that custard and did they prefer thick and lumpy or water-thin and lumpy?
I wasn’t sure where to go, but there was a desk before the assembly hall entrance and a couple of people I assumed were teachers. I approached one lady who looked a bit familiar and realised that I did know her. She was much older than when I was at the school. Back then she was a 30 year old NQT and all the boys fancied her. Now is in her mid 50s, understandably she had put on weight and had a few more lines, but she still looked good for her age. A flicker of recognition passed over her eyes; she frowned briefly and for a moment I am transported back over 20 years and that look she more than once gave that boy at the back of the class who never paid attention.
Do you really want me to send you to the Head Mistress?
No miss, sorry miss.
‘Name?’ she asked curtly and I was briefly taken aback. She hadn’t been like this back then except with the badly behaved children.
I flushed. ‘Mason.’
She snatched up the clipboard and flicked to “M”, ran her finger down the page and pointed to a name. ‘Is this you?’
She raiseed an eyebrow at me. ‘Come with me please,’ and turned on her heel.
Still slightly on the back foot from her curt tone, I followed her into the exam room. It was full of those old wooden desks that are as old as the school. If I looked at all of them, I might probably find a name I recognised etched into the wood. The hall looked just as it did when I took my final GCSE – the final time I ever stepped foot in this hall. There were a few people at the desks, around two thirds at the front of the hall were full but there was nobody at the back and that is where she took me.
‘Sit down,’ she ordered.
Meekly, I did so.
‘Why are you here?’ she asked.
‘I was at the fete yesterday and I was invited by one of the new teachers. I can’t remember her name, sorry but she was young, younger than me and had black hair. She told me there was an exam that they wanted as many former pupils to take to compare intellectual development. I thought it sounded interesting.’
‘Yes well, she made a mistake inviting you. You shouldn’t be here.’
‘I know I was late but I had a bit of bother with the car.’
‘It’s not that. We have former pupils coming in and out all day, there’s no set times.’
My meekness instantly switched to irritation at her lack of apology, as though this was my fault. With an incredulous tone I ask why I was allowed to waste my time and why the new teacher hadn’t checked my eligibility.
‘You have a degree don’t you?’
‘A Masters actually, from Exeter.’
Her harsh tone broke then and a slight smile passed over her face. ‘Devon, very nice!’ but then her frown returned. ‘I am afraid you wasted your time. With your qualifications you’d skew the results of the exam, certainly for your age group and probably for everyone taking the exam. That’s why it’s pointless for you and for us, of you being here.’
I turned the paper over. There were strange symbols and questions on algebra – hardly my strong point! Some strange pictograms are dotted throughout the first few pages. If I didn’t know better, I might have assumed they were engineering diagrams. The questions did not make grammatical sense either and I pointed that out. ‘This seems very difficult. I’m not sure I can make sense of this stuff. Strange pictograms, complex algebra… and that isn’t even proper English.’
‘You will make sense of it when you have read the introductory page and understand the keys and symbols. No, it’s pointless you being here and if you insist on taking the exam then you’ll have to pay.’
‘I don’t know, we haven’t decided yet.’
I scratched my head; I struggled to make any sense of this. Called in for an exam I could not take, told I would have to pay if I insisted – but they didn’t know how much, and that I was overqualified to take it in the first place. Part of me wanted to walk away then, but part of me wanted to know what was going on. ‘If you want to insist that I pay, then I will do so. I don’t mind how much. So if that’s what you’re worried about, I will gladly pay not just for the exam, but make a donation into the school funds.’
I picked up a pen and turned the paper over but she grabbed my arm. ‘What the?’ I looked up to challenge her unwarranted physical contact. The look on her face was no longer that of the stern teacher who greeted me, her look was one of utter terror. Slowly, she raised her finger to her lips in a gesture of silence then took the pen from my hand.
She let go of my arm then and took a piece of paperto write a quick note. It read: LEAVE WHILE YOU CAN. SAVE YOURSELF.