Story A Week (SAW) 8: Feb 19th, 2018
By Adam O’Sullivan
As the children rushed into the classroom from their break, Mrs Richards stood up from her desk and motioned for quiet. She wavered as she stood, but still kept a smile on her face. Mrs Richards always seemed happy, even when she was feeling ill. She put a brave face on for the sake of the children.
“Alright kids, sit on the carpet please. It’s Storytime!”
Billy raced to be up the front, dead in front of the Storytime chair. He love Storytime, looked forward to it every single day. He loved the beautiful pictures in the books Mrs Richards picked, he enjoyed watching her turn the pages, he liked the (mostly) quiet of the class as she read through the book. Mrs Richards would put on voices to make the story come to life, and this delighted Billy. If the characters had to walk through a frightening forest, Mrs Richards would make her voice soft and lower, like a spooky whisper. If the characters in the book were having a party, her voice would be loud and joyous. There had even been one lesson where Billy had been allowed to pick the book. It was the only thing he had talked about to his parents for the rest of that week. He had felt so happy and proud. He loved to get the attention of his teachers for being a good boy.
Once the class was settled on the floor, Mrs Richards walked towards the classroom door. She turned back to look at them, sitting neatly in rows on the carpet in front of the Storytime chair. To her, the kids looked so eager to learn. To the kids, she looked sick. Billy wondered if she was going to throw up, because that’s what the characters did in cartoons when you were sick.
“Please sit here quietly for a couple of minutes. I just need to get some water.”
The kids sat quietly on the floor, waiting for their teacher to come back. Compared to most other classes, they were well behaved, and stared straight ahead at the Storytime chair, as they were told. When seconds turned into minutes and their teacher still hadn’t returned, they started looking at the open classroom door, wishing for her to return. The only person who spoke was Danny, who asked “Where’s Mrs Richards?” but that was the only noise the class made as they continued to wait patiently.
Billy’s wandering mind was just start to form the thought that they should go and see what happened to Mrs Richards when a man appeared at the door of the classroom. Hunched over, covered in a long black cloak, the man looked like a giant beetle. As the man entered the classroom, he stood up, and Billy realised he had been hunched over so he could get through the door. The man was actually very tall. Billy’s father was the tallest person that he knew, and yet the man seemed to be taller even than that. He was unlike any man that Bill had ever seen. Looking at this person, Billy was reminding of a stick with twigs coming off of it, if you made it big enough to be a person. His arms seemed to jut out from his body at strange angles, the way twigs on a stick did. The man took off his cloak and Billy could see that underneath he was very smartly dressed in a black suit and waistcoat. Billy had seen waistcoats on his uncle Darius, who worked at a casino. This man seemed to be fancier than Uncle Darius, who didn’t wear a suit jacket over his waistcoat. The man hung the cloak on the coat rack next to the door, where Mrs Richards hung her raincoat on wet days. After a quick cough into his hand, the man turned to the class.
“Children,” he said, and his voice sounded deep and raspy. It reminded Billy of sandpaper against wood, somehow soothing in a repetitive way but also rough. “Your teacher has had to go home. I’m afraid I will have to conduct Storytime today. You can call me Mr Daniels.”
The class automatically sang out “Good afternoon, Mr Daniels” as they were taught to do when meeting a new teacher. They did the same thing every morning and afternoon when greeting Mrs Richards. The man reached his hands up to his ears and grimaced at the noise. When the class was quiet again, he straightened up and staggered to Mrs Richards’ chair set up at the head of the room.
“Would you like a glass of water, Mr Daniels?” asked a thin, high pitched voice to Billy’s right. It was Patricia, the class leader. It was her job to help Mrs Richards around the classroom. Considering that Mr Daniels was their teacher for the rest of the day, she wanted to help him in his duties. He didn’t look any better than Mrs Richards had looked when she left the classroom, in fact he looked worse. He really did not look well. He was sweating so much that Billy was sure there would be a wet patch on the chair when he got up. His eyes were red, and it seemed that their temporary teacher was having trouble focusing on the kids. His eyelids drooped, as if he might fall asleep at any moment. He was sitting down, but his legs were shaking.
“No, my girl”, replied Mr Daniels, as he slumped down in the chair, “I shall be fine. I am just here for the rest of the day. After Storytime, you will have nap time, and then the day will almost be over. Shall we begin? Eyes this way please. No talking.”
He leaned forward.
“I have a very important story to tell you this afternoon. Not the type of story that you will find in any of your books.”
A few of the kids gasped in surprise. Billy was annoyed that there wasn’t going to be any pictures to look at, like with the picture books. He was already unsure if Mr Daniels would be anywhere near as good a story teller as Mrs Richards. He sure hoped that the story was even better than usual.
“Once upon a time, there was a young man,” began Mr Daniels in his rough whisper. “This man belonged to a family that owned a brewery.”
“What’s a brewery?” came a question from the back, where Danny sat. Danny was always asking questions. It was fine when Mrs Richards was talking about something boring, like maths, but Billy was annoyed when Danny asked questions during Storytime. He liked when Mrs Richards asked Danny to be quiet for the rest of the lesson, as he just wanted to enjoy the story. He didn’t care what type of fox it was that chased the rabbit, or what country the story took place in. If the book didn’t mention it, then it obviously wasn’t important.
“A brewery is a place where they make adult drinks like beer. Beer is something that your mummies and daddies might drink.” Mr Daniels leaned forward and started to reach over the kids. His arms were thin and seemed so long. It stretched over the group of kids sitting in front of him, and it was almost as if it was growing right in front of them. Billy sat watching Mr Daniels, as did the other kids, but he guessed that Mr Daniels could almost reach to the back of the room, at least to where Danny sat.
“Now, I’m going to have to ask all of you not to interrupt my story until it’s finished. I’m sure you’ll be a good, quiet boy.” Billy could hear Mr Daniels patting Danny on the head, and a short gasp of breath, as if Danny was surprised. He hoped that Danny would be quiet now. Mr Daniels pulled his arm back and rested his hands on his knees. Billy noticed that his shoes were really shiny and that his legs were a little less shaky. He must be getting comfortable.
“Now, where was I? This man’s family owned a brewery, one of many in the local town. They weren’t incredibly wealthy, but they made do. All of the breweries in the local area were owned by families, not like today where businesses are owned by companies. The larger breweries were always trying to get bigger, and would stop at nothing to get rid of the smaller breweries – either by buying them from the family that owned them, or waiting for the smaller breweries to go bankrupt. Does anyone know what the word bankrupt means?”
Several children, Billy included, raised their hands. Mr Daniels leaned over again, just slightly less than before but still reaching towards the back of the group, and patted another child on the head. Again, a gasp of surprise. Billy was disappointed that he wasn’t picked this time.
“The young man decided to go traveling. He went to the highest peaks of mountains, to the furthest deserts. He learned many skills, and spoke with many people. Chefs, to find new ingredients for their brewery. Fellow brewers, for not all people who own businesses are just interested in growing their business at the expense of others success. Some are happy to share, so that the whole community may grow. On his travels, the young man also heard word of people with otherworldly powers. In some towns, these people were known as shamans, in some villages they were known as witch doctors. Or healers. Advisers, wizards, devil worshipers, the young man heard the many names these people were called. He wanted to take back to his town as much knowledge as he could, so he soon sought out these magical people. He became skilled as no man had become before, learning new techniques outside of the physical world. He learnt good magic, but he also learned the dark arts as well, as all things should be balanced out.”
Mr Daniels reached over and patted the head of two children sitting next to each other. Billy could hear them both gasping. The pat on the head from Mr Daniels seemed to be so good that the kids who received it gasped in surprised. He wondered if Mr Daniels was going to pat every child on the head. Billy wanted to get Mr Daniels’ attention. He just hoped he wasn’t the last kid to get patted.
“When the man returned back to his town, the family business was on the brink of bankruptcy. The young man set to work immediately, putting to use all the techniques he had learned from around the world. Soon the brewery was making a brand new range of drinks, the likes and tastes of which the town had never experienced before. They were very successful, and the young man’s family business started to become profitable again. They became so successful, that they hired a lot of new employees to help out, which included a beautiful young woman by the name of Anna. Anna helped in the store where the beer was sold, and the young man would visit the store frequently. He would say that he was there to check the stock, but it was obvious to the other employees that he was there to see Anna. Well, to everyone except for Anna, who was unsure why the heir to the family business would be interested in a girl like her. However, the young man asked Anna out, and they were soon married.”
Billy smiled. His parents were married, and his older sister got married last year. Other children must have also smiled, because Mr Daniels smiled back. His mouth was filled with long, flat teeth, greyish in colour.
“They loved each other so much. The young man brewed a new beer to celebrate their wedding, and it was said by all that drank it that you could feel the love in every sip. A single drop was known to make people swoon. Not only was his family saved by the new drinks and their popularity, but the business was growing to be one of the biggest breweries in town. This did not sit well with the other breweries, who were waiting for the young man’s family business to go under.”
Mr Daniels was making his way through the group of children, patting all the kids on the head. ‘Great,’ thought Billy, ‘I am going to be the last child. Maybe next time I won’t sit at the front.’
“The other brewery families got together and went to see the young man. They offered to have him join them, but the young man knew the types of tricks they used and rejected their deal. The other brewery families then threatened him – either sell the business to them, or stop making drinks altogether. If he didn’t, they would make sure he regretted his decision.”
Mr Daniels was now moving his hand from one child to the next, patting their heads. Billy could see Mr Daniels’ arm as it moved over him, like the long neck of a giraffe eating the leaves behind him. Billy continued to stare at Mr Daniels at the head of the class, his eyes never wavering. He was enraptured by the story.
“The young man thought long and hard about the threat issued to him by the other brewery families. Surely the other brewery families would try to steal his recipes, to make their own version of his drinks and put him out of business? He increased security at his brewery and stopped hiring new employees. It turns out that the young man was wrong, that stealing the recipes was not their plan at all. The other brewery families were much more devious and ruthless. One day, the young man returned home to find that Anna was not there. He ran out to his original brewery, where he found the leaders of the other brewery families. With a sneer on their faces, they told the young man to check the wooden vat that held his specially crafted love beer. There, he found Anna. She was floating face down in the beer that had been created to symbolise their undying love for each other. She was no longer moving. She was dead, killed by the horrid individuals that now stood in his brewery. The young man howled in despair. This spooked the heads of the brewery families, and they fled, scattering in all directions. As they fled they called back and told the young man to sell his business. The young man was enraged. He lost the love of his life because some stupid people wanted his business?”
Billy was a bit scared. Mrs Richards had never told a story in which someone died. He didn’t say anything though. He wanted to make it through the story without crying so he could tell Mrs Richards how brave he was. Billy could hear Patricia crying off to his right in the front row. The story was obviously too scary for her. Mr Daniels pulled his hand back and patted her on the head. She gave a gasp of surprise. She must have been comforted by the pat on the head, because she stopped crying. Billy decided that he would be strong without crying, and would get a pat on the head for being so brave.
“The young man pulled Anna’s body out of the vat and tried to help her, but it was too late. He cried so hard that he used up all of his strength. He cried until it was not possible for him to cry anymore.” Mr Daniels paused for a second, looking at the back of the room. His eyes seemed to be wet. He shook himself out of it and turned back to the kids.
“Mad with grief at the loss of his wife, he started drinking from the vat of the beer that was created to celebrate their love, the same vat that Anna drowned in. He was soon extremely drunk, but the young man found that the beer had also returned his strength. Still incredibly angry, he knew exactly what he had to do. That night, he sought out the heads of each of the brewery families. They’d returned to their families, hopeful that the young man would fold and give them what they required. But the young man hunted down each and every one of them, and he did horrible things to them before he killed them, as revenge for what they had done to Anna, and to him. By the time that the moon rose to its highest place in the sky, the young man was finished.”
Mr Daniels was alternating sides of the front row. After Patricia, he had moved his arm to the far left, and then back to the right. The movement was hypnotic, but Billy still realised this meant he was going to be the last child. Maybe he was special? Maybe Mr Daniels had noticed how brave he was?
“When the young man awoke in the morning, still holding Anna’s lifeless body, he was severely hungover and filled we dread and disgust at what he had done. The police came and took away Anna’s body. The deaths of the heads of the brewery families were investigated but, much like Anna’s death, no-one was ever found guilty. The young man found that his hangover never went away. No matter how much water he would drink or how much he ate, no matter how much sleep he had, he never felt better. The hangover just seemed to get steadily worse.”
Billy felt Mr Daniels pat Sven, the kid sitting next to him. Sven gasped in surprise. Billy had been counting, and it seemed that everyone in the class had gotten a pat on the head except for him. It was at last his turn! Surely Mr Daniels had left him until last because he was so brave during the story!
“Every time the young man remembered the terrible things he had done while he was drunk, the hangover got worse. Eventually, he turned to his training to try and lift how sick he felt. He learned that a sickness could be made better by seeking out and absorbing the life force of another person. The young man could use that life force to make himself feel better. But the person he performed the spell on would lose their life force, and would die. They would no longer be alive, the same way that Anna was no longer alive. So the young man went back to the houses of the heads of the brewery families. He went looking for their children, the ones who would eventually take over the breweries. He knew that they would follow in their parent’s footsteps, they would continue using their dirty tactics to get what they wanted. They would never be happy, no matter how much money or power they had. Once the young man had found the children and done what needed to be done, the young man felt much better. In fact, he felt fantastic. He felt stronger than before. He felt like he could lift more than he had previously, and he felt like he could live longer. However, he felt thirsty. Again, no matter how much water he drank, he didn’t feel any different. He was constantly thirsty. He didn’t want to drink beer, because he was worried that when he was drunk he would do terrible things again. And he didn’t want another hangover. But eventually he could hold off no longer, and he drank long and well from any beer he could find. And so the cycle continued.”
Mr Daniels now reached towards Billy. He was the last child to be patted on the head, but in this moment, it didn’t matter. He was getting the teachers attention! Billy would tell Mrs Richards that he had waited patiently, had been a good, brave, strong boy. As Mr Daniels hand moved towards Billy’s head, he could see his long, bony fingers topped by crooked, cracked nails. Billy could feel the hand coming closer and his eyes were drawn to it. He found he could now only focus on the centre of Mr Daniels palm. It was as if the whole essence of his body was focused on that one point. Then his hand stopped, just in front of Billy’s face, and he could hear Mr Daniels speaking.
“Billy, does your father still own the Gold Star Sandwich Bar?” His voice seemed to be coming through a fog, like it was early morning and he was slowly waking up.
“No, Mr Daniels,” replied Billy, and he never questioned how Mr Daniels had known his name. His thoughts were just on the palm of Mr Daniels hand. He felt like he couldn’t move, couldn’t look away, even if he wanted to. “My father says we’re bankrupt now. That’s why I know the word. He says the other sandwich shops pushed him out and stole his ideas.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Mr Daniels pulled his hand away, and Billy felt like he could move again. He sure was annoyed that he hadn’t been patted on the head like the rest of the kids.
“You have been spared today, Billy. I need you to share this story as a cautionary tale to others who would use dastardly tactics to further their business.”
Mr Daniels stood up, and Billy noticed that the teacher was no longer sweating, his legs no longer shaking. In fact, he looked perfectly alright. He didn’t look sick at all. Mr Daniels looked strong and tall, as if he could take on a truck and win. Billy could feel the powerful energy flowing from Mr Daniels as he walked towards the door.
“I’m sorry about your friends. I needed a cure for my hangover. Although now, I feel like a drink. Do you know where the nearest bar is?” He didn’t seemed to need a reply, because he chuckled to himself and went to put his cape back on. As he left the room and started to walk away, Billy was sure he could hear him whistling to himself.
It was only then that Billy noticed that he classmates were all lying down around him. They looked like they were sleeping, but they didn’t seem to be breathing heavily, like they normally did. They sure must have been tired, or maybe the story had scared them too much. Billy had loved the story, but it had also made him a bit sleepy. He went to get his sleeping mat and had a nap with his classmates.
The principal found them just after the home bell had gone. He found Billy crying out that no-one else was waking up. Just Billy, crying, and the lifeless bodies of all of his classmates around him. There were no marks on any of them. It was like the very life-force inside of them had been sucked clean out.