Writers-in-Residence Excerpts of Work

Rebecca Shtasel - Novelist

PROLOGUE

Spring 1970

Harry and Neil raced up the stairs to the top floor.

“Now where?” said Neil.

“Down there,” Harry said pointing down the corridor. “We can hide in a classroom. They’ll never find us up here.”

The two boys hurried along the corridor to the classroom at the far end. Inside, the big sash windows were open letting in the spring breeze. Harry and Neil threw themselves onto the floor under one of the windows. Neil pulled his legs up and rested his head on his bony knees taking huge gulps of air after their panicked dash upstairs. Harry too was trembling from the unaccustomed exercise. His fat cheeks were shiny red and his heart was racing. When they had finally calmed down Neil said, “Are you sure they won’t find us here? Andy’s going to be spitting when he can’t find us.”

“Let him. I’ve had enough.”
” I don’t think I can take it anymore.” Neil began to weep. A slow drizzle of tears started their journey down his long thin face. Harry patted him on the back but did not know what to say.

Suddenly the voice they both feared more than any other in the world attacked them from the doorway.

“There you are!” said a good looking boy with white skin and stunning red hair, as he sauntered into the classroom followed by three other boys from their form. “Look gentlemen, how touching. A love story in our very midst. Harry and Neil.” The boy walked over and looked down on them as they kept their eyes fixed on their knees.

“Looking for some privacy, were you?” The boy’s voice changed, became harder. “Wanted to engage in your perverted practices, did you? Whilst we, Jason and myself, went hungry?” The last word rose into a shout.

“Sorry Andy,” Harry and Neil mumbled into their knees.

“What was that? I didn’t quite catch that. Did you, Jason?”

A wiry, rat-like boy detached himself from the group of three to stand next to Andy.

“I did not, Andy.”

“No, I didn’t think you did. Because not only do these two perverts want us to get our own tuck for ourselves, they also want us to work hard to hear what they’ve got to say.”

Harry raised his head at that, knowing, (despite his brave words earlier to Neil) too well what the consequence would be of not co-operating.

“Sorry Andy,” he said loudly.

“Better. But young Neil is being remarkably quiet.”

Jason took a step closer and Harry gave Neil a poke with his elbow. Neil was crying so hard now his whole body was shaking. He managed to raise his head but he was sobbing too much to be able to speak.

“You need to learn some manners, boy,” said Andy. “Jason, teach him some manners.”

Jason bent over, grasped Neil’s collar and dragged him to his feet. He pulled back his arm ready to punch Neil in the stomach when Harry leaped up and inserted himself between them.

“Stop it!” he shouted.

Jason was so surprised at this that he let go of Neil and now free the boy jumped up onto the window ledge behind them.

“Neil, what are you doing?” Harry cried, whirling round.

“I’ve had enough.” Neil’s face was white as he looked back into the classroom. “I’m sorry, Harry. But it’s never going to stop.” And with that he leaped from the window ledge. Harry, Jason and Andy rushed to the window, the other two boys squashed in behind and they all watched Neil plummet to the car park three floors below. He landed with a thud, his body spread-eagled on the tarmac. From three floors up the boys could see a dark stain starting to creep from his head. A scream went up from a group of first years who had been making their way back into the school just as Neil fell. Then all pandemonium let loose with teachers and boys flocking to the scene.

Andy stood upright again, his face aglow and said, “That was fantastic! How are we ever going to top that?”

Rebecca Shtasel,
Brighton, England.

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