After a long break from writing, the longest I’ve taken in four years, I began writing this a couple of days ago without much clue as to what it was about beyond the first chapter. A few days (and three hours writing time later), I’m 7,300 words into my next novel, provisionally titled ‘Painted Black’, a psychological thriller. It’s good to be writing again. Hope you enjoy this short preview.
The following excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s ‘Painted Black’. Copyright mark Wilson 2017. It is unedited.Chapter One
Her red pen moving, right toe tapping along to an Indie track playing through her ear-phones, Frankie’s eyes flick up to the standard school-issue clock on her classroom wall. Ten minutes ‘til break.
On any other day the realisation would be welcome, today the looming interval is less a chance for coffee and a quick moan with her peers, and more a reminder that yet another hour in yet another day with too few has slipped past her and her to do list has barely been dented.
Reminding herself that she loves her job, Frankie shakes off the threatening despair at always having more work to do, of never quite succeeding to finish one task before another materialises and stands from her desk.
Frequent micro-breaks. That’s her thing just now. That and the comfort blanket of music whilst she works. A few seconds of walking around the room and stretching, then back to work. Just enough of a pause to break the fugue. Just enough activity to reenergise before returning to her task. The music provides motivation and positivity, both badly needed for a twenty-first century teacher drowning in admin. Music and pacing, a poor substitute for a good glass of wine.
Avoiding disturbing her noise-cancelling earphones, Frankie slips her right hand behind her neck and push leans until vertebrae slide and crack back into position with satisfyingly sharp pain. Frankie checks the clock again, assesses how much she’s accomplished during her free period and resigns herself good-naturedly to taking almost half of her work home tonight to complete it in front of her latest Netflix binge.
Netflix and chill, she mocks her own life.
‘Netflix and mark jotter, drink wine and eat chocolate’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Returning to her seat, Frankie runs both hands back over her head, smoothing her hair- a subconscious habit her close friends find endearing- that seems to ready her, steel her between tasks or sometimes before speaking. Inadvertently, she knocks her earphones back from her left ear. Immediately she hears raised voices; kids from the classroom next door.
Surprise flickers across her face. Dougie’s kids are generally a quiet bunch. He runs a good classroom. Strict, but not unfair. Approachable, but a firm expectation of the standards he expects in his classroom. Moving to stand closer to their shared wall, Frankie expects that she’ll hear the sounds of a busy class, enjoying some active learning that Dougie’s dreamt up. Something prickles her subconscious. Something about the tone of the voices next door.
Muffled through the wall, she hears desks being screeched across the room, not unusual in an active classroom, and a few squeals from girls. Again, nothing unusual in a fourth year class where screams, groans, grunts, shouts and hollers form a large part of the teenage response vocab. The next voice, Dougie’s voice, sends Frankie racing to her classroom door.
Mid-stride Frankie’s fear is heightened by more racket coming through the wall and spilling out into the corridor.
“Harry…No!” – Dougie’s voice sounds shrill, desperate.
Frankie hears the door to Dougie’s classroom slam hard. A blur of movement passes the slim window of her own door at the moment she reaches for the handle.
Through six inch-wide glass, Frankie watches Dougie Black manhandle a boy whose face she can’t see from his room out into the hall. Pulling at her door handle, Frankie starts to open the door outwards. Almost immediately the teenage boy’s back smashes against her door, shattering the glass and sending the door crashing into her face. Frankie finds herself propelled backwards. Landing roughly on her rear, her hands find her face. Fingers working tentatively to her nose she feels wetness and tastes blood in the back of her throat. Through tears she watches Dougie use a strong forearm across the neck to press the boy hard into her door. Dougie’s face is twisted into an expression that Frankie wouldn’t have thought it capable of. Pain, confusion, anger and fear war in his features.
“No, Harry. No,” he shouts into the kid’s face. Frankie can’t see Harry’s Jardine’s face, only the back of his head, but she knows the kid well enough to recognise his build and his wild, red hair.
The boy’s shoulders are hunched over. The muscles in his back bunch and clench visibly under his school shirt. Several cuts on his back from where he crashed into her door are now bleeding.
The kid is fighting back against Dougie, and fighting hard. His left hand fires into Dougie’s face landing a solid blow, staggering the elder man a few steps back. Harry steps away from the door, the pressure from Dougie’s arm no longer pinning him. With shocking speed and efficiency he shoves Dougie with both hands, forcing him to the ground. A flash of metal in Harry’s hand stimulates something primal in Frankie’s brain. Landing astride his chest, Harry’s elbow dances like a fiddler’s mid-jig and his right hand darts in and out from Dougie’s torso.
Rising to her feet, Frankie struggles to shove the door open as Harry’s arm and hand continue to work at speed and with force. Dougie’s feet against her door prevent Frankie from opening it more than a few centimetres. A coppery, salty smell carries on the air that rushes in through the gap.
Only when fully standing, with her face pressed part-way through the gap where the glass had been, does Frankie get a proper view of how tilted her world has somehow become.
Sat on Dougie’s chest- one leg bent and kneeling the other straight and out for purchase- Harry torpedoes blows into Dougie’s torso, the fiddler’s elbow increasing the tempo of its action. The knife flashes before Frankie’s eye and splashes red across the carpet and wall with each strike. Abruptly Harry’s hand ceases its work. Dougie lies still, his legs straight and lifeless, beneath the boy.
With shocking, vicious speed Harry changes his grip, rotating the knife in his hand. Frankie’s screams echo along the corridor. Harry pushes several inches of steel into Dougie Black’s, lower chest in a determined stabbing motion.
Almost immediately, the instant the blade enters the prone teacher’s chest, Harry’s body gives a violent spasm then sags forward. Harry leans onto the floor with his right hand. Frankie watches him jerk once more then fall to the floor, a marionette with its strings severed. Landing on his side, parallel to his bleeding teacher, Harry’s head twitches to his left. From Frankie’s perspective it looks like an involuntary act, the action of a person waking to a nightmare. Both hands pressed to the doorframe, Frankie can feel the change happen. Harry comes to his knees slackly. His muscles relax, his head movement suggests his eyes moving between his hands and the knife in the teacher’s chest. All purpose, all violence has departed him. He looks smaller, deflated and weak and lost.
Frankie steels herself and pushes at the door. Discovering that it is still blocked by the dead weight of Dougie’s feet and legs, Frankie’s fear departs leaving her with a grim determination.
“Harry Jardine,” she yells shrilly.
The boy’s head snaps around, startling her. His eyes are wide, uncomprehending. He can see what he’s done, but the kid is having trouble processing the facts.
Years of teaching teenagers, managing their behaviour puts Frankie into auto-pilot and the horror of the day ebbs a minute amount. Enough for her to function. When she speaks again, her voice is soft and calm.
“Harry, Move Mr Black’s legs,” she says. Her voice is steady and authoritative. Her heart hammers the inside of her ribcage.
The teenager blinks dumbly several times. Classroom doors open all along the corridor. Teachers’ faces emerge from their classrooms. Several step instantly back into their room, instructing their kids to return to their seats.
A few, the department head included, walk slowly along the corridor towards Frankie’s room. Their mouths slack, their eyes darting from Harry to Dougie and then Frankie. Masks of incomprehension morphing into controlled fear and shock.
Frankie flicks eyes flick from one face to another, before returning to meet Harry’s pale face and sunken eyes.
“Move his legs a little, son. I need to get out of my room and help Mr Black.”
An almost imperceptible nod does nothing to alter the panic that’s beginning to take hold in Harry’s eyes.
Frankie subconsciously braces herself for the boy to lurch at or attack her. She swallows the fear rising in her throat and paints a neutral expression on her face. It costs her a fragment of her soul something to do this.
“A nod at Dougie’s legs. “Harry.”
The boy has started to shake, but he reaches forward with both hands to shove at Dougie’s legs.
The Weight from the door immediately moves and Frankie slips smoothly through the doorway into the corridor.
Fighting every urge to be anywhere but near Harry Jardine, Frankie approaches the kneeling boy who has resumed his panicked scanning of Dougie’s prone form. A hand on each of his shoulders, she helps him to his feet as one might a child in need of consolation. Her eyes widen and fill with tears as she takes in Dougie’s wounds. Each of them deep and oozing or spraying dark blood.
Frankie straightens her back and moves Harry a few steps to her right. Lisa Ferguson, the department head, is stood nearby, having made her way silently along the corridor. Frankie looks behind Lisa. The other teachers in the department, six of them, are stood at their classroom doors, guarding the rooms, blocking the view through the glass sections. Kay McEwan is on her phone.
Lisa’s eyes meet Frankie’s. An unspoken exchange takes place.
Lisa wordlessly places an arm around Harry, leading him to the staircase beside Dougie’s room.
Frankie falls to her knees at Dougie’s side, hard enough to scuff both knees.
Reaching out to feel his forehead, Frankie’s hands tremble almost uncontrollably. She swears, demanding better of herself and reaches for a second time to make what in hindsight will seem like a pointless gesture. Holding her hand against Dougie’s forehead and then face, like she’s taking his temperature, Frankie shudders at the coolness of his skin.
Warmth spreads around her knees as blood pools. Frankie ignores it and searches his wounds. After counting six wounds, all deep, all bleeding, Frankie preserves her sanity by ceasing her examination. She knows that her friend is bleeding out. He’ll die before anyone arrives to help. Pressure, pressure on the wounds.
First aid raining nags at her.
Out loud she swears again, how the hell can I put pressure on all these wounds at once?
Frankie scans the wounds again, this time forcing herself to examine teach of them. She counts eighteen stab wounds and nine relatively deep slashes. Most of the wound are pooling blood. Two of them are spurting blood in long streams in time with Dougie’s heart beat. Each pulse delivers less blood.
Jan from the office, the school’s official first aider reaches her side. Shouldering Frankie aside, she immediately begins pressing her hands onto the two deepest wounds in Dougie’s abdomen, impeding the flow of vital blood. Jan is visibly rattled, her hands slip several times before she applies the right amount of pressure to slow Dougie’s bleeding, but not enough to slide off of his blood soaked body.
“Go find something to press on these wounds with,” she hisses at Frankie.
Frankie runs back into her classroom, Jan shouts down the corridor. “Has someone called an ambulance?” Despite her calm exterior, her tone betrays the panic she is feeling.
Searching frantically around her classroom, Frankie comes up short on anything suitable to act as a bandage or even a gauze to press on. Fuck, fuck, fuck…
Her handbag, at the edge of her peripheral vison catches her eye. Two strides take her two it, ten more carry her back into the corridor to re-join Jan.
Unwrapping two of the four sanitary towels she’s brought, Frankie hands them to Jan who smoothly lifts one of her hands from Dougie’s wound, grabs the stacked towels and pushes them down onto the wound. Almost immediately the blood loss changes from steady leak to mere dribble. Together, the women repeat the process hindering the flow at the second site.
Jan swears several times, instructing herself roughly as she works. Her eyes dart busily form one wound to the next. Slashes, gouges and less deep stab wounds cry for her attention, but her efforts are best spent at the two deepest wounds she currently tends. Jan feels bile rise in her throat at her inability to do more for Dougie.
Press fuckng harder.
More pressure, you bastard.
Both hands firmly covering the pads, she throws a look Frankie’s way.
Frankie stops short of shrugging. A moment later it occurs to her that she should check Dougie’s breathing and heart.
Jan lets out a long breath, grateful that someone other than just herself is doing something, is responsible for Dougie. She watches as Frankie leans an ear close to Dougie’s mouth, then takes his wrist.
“He’s cold,” Frankie cries. “His heart rate is really fast…So is his breathing.”
Jan’s brain delivers part of a lesson she attended two years previously.
“His blood pressure will be low, his body is diverting blood to his core. That’s why his hands and arms are cold,” Janice blurts, sounding like an instructional video.
“Okay, okay…” Jan repeats to no-one.
Each of them soaked in their colleague’s blood, each almost as pale as Dougie himself, Frankie and Jan look at each other for several long moments. Unbidden, hot tears streak down Jan’s face. As though given permission to accept or process the horror her world has become in under three minutes, Frankie’s own dams break. Acid tears wash a path through Dougie’s blood along her cheeks.
They nod at each other once, a wordless reassurance. Jan’s hands do not move a millimetre form their task of keeping Dougie’s wounds under pressure.
“You’re doing great,” Jan says quietly.
Frankie almost laughs. Instead she merely bobs a nod.
Her eyes leave Jan’s, searching Dougie’s body she ransacks her memories for something else she could be dong to stop the man belling out. No staggering act of surgical genius presents itself, so Frankie starts talking instead.
“It’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, Dougie. Just hold on. Stay with us.