She is scantily dressed in a torn nightie, barefooted, with dirty cuts lining her legs, sweaty and breathless, her short blond hair spiked with little perches, with a gasping cut on her left arm and on the fabric blood that might be her own, as every so often she presses her hand against the stain, her face twists in pain. But she doesn’t stop running, over stones cutting her feet, amidst branches whipping her bare arms. She almost lost her equilibrium twice, but managed to keep running and stumbling through the forest, searching for a road, for help. Again and again she twists her head backwards, although she knows better – she should watch the path, be alert not to step into a trap or strain her ankles or, heaven beware, break her foot in some coppice, but she cannot help it, with panic and fear rushing through her, adrenaline flooding the synapses, not much room is left for rational thought. So she keeps looking back while running and of course it is her undoing. When she turns her eyes back to the path, all she sees is the lumbering seven foot hulk in a scarecrow costume and she screams, but no one can hear her and besides, her cry is cut short by the Scarecrow Man, grapping her by the throat and lifting her up like a flesh doll without bones, until she looks him straight into the eyes, eyes so dark, rigid and blank they might be marbles, she sees his pockmarks and the harelip that parted even the soft bone wall between the nostrils. The Scarecrow Man bends her head backwards and she sees the sky; grey, without sun and birds, who shun this part of the woods. He pulls his carving knife from the holster and with a single smooth floating motion cuts the girl’s throat before releasing her from his grip. Her fall stops halfway and she defies gravity.
Andrew Harris put the remote control on the teacher’s desk, went over to the TV, switched it off and took “Scarecrow Man 2 – Gut Harvest” out of the DVD player, turned and faced the four students.
“Well,” he started, chuckling a bit, “methinks this is not going to make the BAFTAs. Anyway, we are not here to discuss the cinematic merit – or lack thereof – of this wee ditty, aren’t we?” Harris placed himself on the edge of his desk. “We will talk about responsibility, effects and cause. Let me start with a quote please. ‘Media violence has affected children’s mindsets negatively to certain extent and it is a problem. We all know that children are more vulnerable towards all kind of information from various sources. Additional to that, they like to imitate what they see, hear and so on. Therefore, I am of the opinion that media violence can desensitize them to violence.’ Interesting. But first I’d like to ask you, what was wrong in the scene we just watched … Gilbert?” The others shifted in their seats, anxious and afraid, quietly moaning through their gags, trying to wriggle themselves out of their tightly knotted bonds. Jolted, Tom Gilbert straightened himself, waited until Harris removed the ball-gag, his complexion paling and muttered: “I would say that … maybe …the perpetrator should be wearing a mask?” “A mask?” Harris asked perplexed. “Why, Gilbert, would he feel the need to hide his countenance? They are way out in the middle of nowhere, where the cells make no calls, and he is intent on slicing and dicing her into tiny lumps. Would you agree that Mister Scarecrow Man quite possibly gives a flying tinker’s toss about weather or not his victim comes to see his ugly hide?”
“Besides, we are not going to discuss some minor lapse of a probably drug-riddled screenwriter. We are looking at a glaring, devastating, and most moronic and insulting mistake. Mr. Gilbert, imagine Scarecrow Man donning a paper bag over his head. He’s masked now. He’s Tesco Man. Now what grave mistake is bag-boy culpable of?”
“I don’t know.” Gilbert started to whimper; tears fell from his eyes, ran over his chubby cheeks and dripped on his school tie. From the back of the classroom came a sound of snipping fingers.
“I know it, Mr. Harris” mumbled the voice. Harris turned round.
“Mr. Hunter, please – nobody likes a smart-ass. Give Mr. Gilbert the chance to answer. Gilbert?”
“He was scuffling twenty feet behind her and then, all of a sudden, he stood before her and…”
“Nonsense. This we call suspension of disbelief. A tried and true tradition only some fuddy-duddy nitpicker would dwell upon. I still do not care for minor script errors.” Andrew Harris shook his head, looking sad. His haggard face seemed even deeper lined, his prominent cheekbones now protruded so far, they could cut paper.
“Sorry. Really sorry. But I’m afraid you’ve just failed.”
“No, Mr. Harris, please. Just give me two minutes. I mean, I am sure…”
“Quiet down and listen to Mr. Hunter. If you’d be so kind to enlighten us?” Harris went to the back row and loosened Hunter’s gag.
Frank Hunter straightened up and proclaimed: “The murder scene was all wrong. A true psychopath would never indulge in such sloppy ways of killing. Dragging the knife once from left to right like slicing apple pie?”
“Very good, Mr. Hunter. You’re an opportunist and a wonk, but you are correct. If there is truth to the quote I read to you earlier, this scene teaches our youngsters that they can effectively slay another human by simply sashaying a blade from ear to ear. Now, here is an extra question for you to make amends for the one you’ve botched up. What kind of people do you think annoy me the most, Mr. Gilbert?”
Sobbing vehemently, Gilbert stuttered: “I don’t know, Mr. Harris. Maybe the stupid kind?”
Harris shook his head. “Wrong again. The breathing kind.”
He stepped behind Gilbert, gripped his front, bent back his head, produced a shiny Spider Bowie Knife from one of his boots and sawed through Gilbert’s throat, so forceful, the severed Adam’s apple was clearly visible through the frayed wound. Gilbert thrashed violently. Shifting stools screeched over linoleum, subdued cries of repulsion and fear rose. Only Hunter stared transfixed.
“You see, that is the only way to cut a throat. In the movies there it is always one fucking clean cut and the victim looks surprised and dies the next second, whereas Mr. Gilbert, who has been killed in a correct and precise manner, will go on gasping and gaping like a goldfish that had been kicked in the balls for about three minutes. Then he should be choked on his own blood. Questions?”
An excited torrent of undistinguishable consonants led Harris to a blond, athletic build young man. Harris looked at the piece of paper he had tucked to the boys chest and read.
“Mr Fletcher. You want to ask something?” Fletcher coughed so many words into the sock Harris had stuffed between his teeth, his face was all puffy. “Please, calm down.” He removed the sock.
“What the fuck are you doing? You’re the janitor, for fuck’s sake. Where’s Mr. Rattigan?”
“I am a teacher.” Harris cried, his upper lip twitching. He was starting to sweat. “I teach… Social Studies… I just… had to change… schools. Short tenures. Had to move. Often. Until all I could do to start at a school was donning a damned janitor uniform and mop floors and wipe your shit and puke and scratch your fucking gums…..” He closed his eyes, breathed slowly, and regained his composure.
“To get back to what you were saying, Fletcher,” Harris went to the small basin, took a piece of soap, forced Fletcher’s jaw open, shoved it in and sealed the mouth with the sock.
“Foul words make foul minds. And Mr. Rattigan is inhibited. That’s how I came to supervise your detention.”
Harris stepped over Gilbert’s corpse, opened the cupboard and Rattigan fell out. A mop had been rammed down his throat with such force, that only a tiny piece of the holder was visible and with the mop-head covering his features, Rattigan looked as if he had been attacked by the face-hugger.
“I will now remove the gag, Mr. Fletcher. If you scream, you can very well guess, how unlucky this would turn out for you.” Harris took out the sock and the soap and Fletcher puked over his uniform.
“Why are you doing this?” he sobbed.
“Like I said -I am a teacher, though you could say I’m a freelancer now. Still – education is my calling. And since some minor inconveniences like fuss about the use of corporal punishment and vanishing pupils keep me from passing my knowledge onto the youngsters, I teach them mores! Look at you, you lot here, having it all. All the wisdom of the world available, the greatest writings just one mouse-click away and you are able to download the words of the Bard and the Donne’s poems, but all you indulge in is filth, porn and sharing clips of funny laughing cats and happy slapping. Education is a gift and you spit on it. You are lazy, you have no morals, and you know no decency, because a pupil, who does know decency, will not end up in detention, for God’s sake!” Harris’ voice broke. He gulped.
“Now. Attention, class. A film.”
He put another DVD into the recorder. “It’s taken from a home-grown micro-budget film called ‘My Sisters Need Slicing’.”
The clip was short. All you could see was a hooded figure with black gloves sticking a butcher’s knife into the belly of a nude brunette. She squeaked, fell down, she died. Harris switched off, cleared his throat. “Would you please step forward, Mr. Fletcher?”
“I can’t.” he muttered.
“I’m not really asking. Step forward.”
“I can’t, you fucking arsehole psycho prick nailed me to my chair!”
Harris giggled. “I completely forgot about that. But you were a very unruly rascal, Fletcher. Look at Mr. Hunter. All I had to do with him was super-gluing his trousers to his place.”
“That’s because little Norman Bates over there probably enjoys the show. He’s just as sick a fuck as you.” Spittle flew from Fletcher’s mouth.
“Keep your seat, then.” Harris stood next to him, gripped the part of a twelve inch nail that protruded from Fletcher’s thigh and jerked hard, like he trying to put him into fourth gear.
“And watch your bleeding language!” He rummaged through his briefcase, produced a replica of the knife they’ve just seen in the clip and stabbed Fletcher in the stomach. Twice.
Fletcher’s eyes bulged, reddish foamy saliva bubbles formed at the corner of his mouth and he threw his torso back and forth. Harris looked at the other two pupils. The Taplow boy was crying uncontrollably, Hunter watched the murder of his classmate with almost clinical curiosity. He stabbed Fletcher three times more, pierced a kidney, punctured the spleen and scraped bone, which led to a scream of anguish, so deafening, he put the sock back in.
Fletcher breathed as if hyperventilating. Harris seemed to lose it and went into a stabbing frenzy. Blood squirted into his face, dripped from his hair, hit the walls.
Exhausted, Harris sat down. Fletcher was still alive. Barely so, his face waxen, with freckles of blood, eyes turned inward, but he was breathing.
“Mr. Fletcher has just been stabbed forty-one times with a solid knife from Germany’s finest manufacturer. And yet he is not gone. And yet … sod it. Well, he is dead now. But he lasted quite some time, huh?”
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Why? Why us, Mr. Harris?” Taplow muffled.
“Luck. It’s all about luck. ” Harris said. “Let me tell you something about luck. It’s because of luck you are born on this wonderful island and not into some third world pesthole, where you’d right now be sewing shoes for sixteen hours each day for a laugh. Do you acknowledge your luck, gentlemen? Do you wish, you’d acknowledged it more right now? Here’s a nice example of luck – say, you’ve missed the tube to King’s Cross by two minutes and it’s exactly this tube a whacked out Muslim has chosen to blow himself to smithereens on the off-chance of banging a cartload of virgins. Phew. Lucky you. Or – you’ve missed the tube and now you are late for school again and sent to detention while everyone else is home and dry, and now you’re holed in with me. The secret of life is luck. Good luck and bad luck. There is no pattern, no secret meaning or purpose. Our brains make that up. Even in the worst muddle, in the most random conglomerations, our brain makes us see patterns. Little doggies in the clouds. It’s bogus. A fraud. And that’s the lesson for today, boys. I’m tired.”
Harris got up and went to Taplow. “Taplow, me lad. No questions for you, no film clips.” He wiped some tears from the boy’s face.
“Maybe, just briefly, a movie title? And then off you go? Having your lesson learned? Coming back tomorrow, all attentive and prepared and with a clean tie and a crease in your trousers like a good boy?”
Taplow nodded hesitantly, a sparkle of hope in his eyes. Harris fumbled through his briefcase.
“Here’s the title: ‘The Browning Version’.”
He put the Browning on the bridge of Taplow’s nose and pulled the trigger. Gray lumps of brain streaked down the chalk-board.
“I don’t think you would.” He went over to Hunter.
“So, Mr. Hunter. Just the two of us, now.”
“Wait. Please wait.”
Harris sighed. “I’m dog-tired. I’ve got a nagging headache and pyrosis and my digestion isn’t humouring me, either. So what is it? Any last words you feel compelled to speak? Some whining, begging and jabbering?”
“No. That would hardly be of any use, would it? It’s just that I hid something. When you frisked us, I managed to stash this away.” He pulled a mobile out of his trouser pocket.
“Well, if you hid it between your buttocks, I sure missed it. I’m no perv. But neither can I hear the cavalry approaching nor some copper’s voice creaking through a megaphone. The parking lot looks like it should be on a Friday afternoon – deserted. So what are you trying to tell me?”
“I’ve filmed it. All of it. Even the stabbing of David and that took place in quite an impossible angle. See for yourself.” He handed Harris the phone. “You’ve got to press…”
“I know how an iPhone works.”
And there it all was, in glorious High Definition – Gilbert, getting his throat sliced, the vicious slashing of Fletcher, the snuffing of John Taplow. The only thing not to be seen was Andrew Harris’ face.
“We could sell it.” Hunter chimed in.
“Sell it?” Harris was somehow bemused. The kid had balls. He was bat-shit crazy, sure, but he had balls.
“Mr. Harris – Snuff movies are like the holy grail of urban legends. Fuck the spider in the palm or the man with the hook. Good for a laugh. But snuff? You’ll probably not remember, with you downloading the renaissance poets or offing kids and stuff , but some years ago there was one big bleeding ruckus, because Charlie Sheen, the actor, you know – he watched that Japanese movie, like “Guinea Pig”, right, and with all the drugs and booze and having his dick sucked, vroom, his brain shoots off into spheres where no brain has been before and he calls the FBI, like, and they get all excited and the press has a field day, The Sun puts the story straight over the page three titties and all of a sudden everybody and his retarded bro is screaming “Ban The Filthy Snuff Films!” and of course it’s not real, I mean – this movie comes with a commentary track and a Making Off and shit. But the thing is, dude, I mean, Mr. Harris – the next weeks and months that fucking movie sold like an eighteen year old nun on a hooker auction. With something like a third generation bootleg you could make a down payment for your flat and then party in there till Armageddon, mate. Now, what you think the real deal would make, huh?”
Harris said nothing.
“Let’s face it. This calling of yours, freelance educating, bringing down the wrath of Hermes – you can hardly combine it with a nine-to-five, can you? Travelling expenses, a place to stay and you sure don’t want to be a janitor the rest of your life, huh? But with me filming your lectures and selling them, we’d out-fuck the Duke of Winchester money-wise. And, yeah, well, get your message across, whatever. So? What do you say? Deal, Mr. Harris, mate?”
“Money always is a bit tight, that’s for sure. But how do you think we should distribute this … special product, young man?”
“My uncle Francis. When he was twelve, he started with the Krays. Then he was known as The Manchurian Malady. He knows people God doesn’t know about.”
Harris cocked his head. This was one astonishing kid.
“You truly are an interesting young man. Though not the most popular pupil, I suppose. Now – if, and that’s written with two capitals, if this works out, I’d pay you twenty-five per cent in the first year.”
“Twenty-five? You’re shitting me?”
“You’re an apprentice. What do you expect? It’s that or The Browning Version.”
“Twenty-five is mighty fine, sir.”
“I’ll keep the phone. Let’s go.”
Hunter ripped himself free from the chair he’d been glued to.
“One thing, Mr. Harris.”
“What is it now, Hunter?”
“We’ve got to stop and buy me some new trousers first. Think I can get an advance?”
By TM Simmler