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Old 4th Aug 2004, 14:01   #1
amner
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Default I'm going to hum this tune forever

I'm going to hum this tune Forever




Frank could never find it in himself to feel the least bit grateful for his job. Yet, apparently, he performed it with a ritualistic diligence every working day of the week; the Geoffrey Boycott Comprehensive was easily the largest school in Leeds and did not engender a feeling of wanting to try one‚€™s hardest. Five and a half thousand kids at any one moment and seventeen years had taught Frank how little patience he had, but also how little of his frustration he could reveal to the mob. In private he tore ‚€˜phone directories in half. His main bugbear, of course, was that he was not his own master. One timetable dovetailed with necessary perfection into the other, all organised by the brilliant insensitivity of his nemesis. Mr Hemingford Grey, Headmaster, was, to all other members of his profession a model, a paradigm amongst them, a slave to his intricate but deadly construction. And Frank hated him with every fibre of his tortured soul. He would sit in his Form room, tick names off on the Register and look in anger out of the window at the sparkling, new and enormous car that Grey bought every August 1st. He had contrived to scratch it on numerous occasions. But this was just the tip of the iceberg: Frank wanted more than that.
He just didn‚€™t realise it.
Frank taught English Literature to the GCSE mob (jane bloody austen shakespeare as ever the odd bit of byron thrown and e e cummings ha ha) and English Language to the cretins, retards and remedials on a Monday morning (a monday for chrissakes!).
The problem that Frank knew less than nothing of, and if he did would know even less about how to combat, was that he stood the last in line of an unholy descendancy, an obscene and gruesome list of relatives reaching far back into the whirls of wherever to a point of bestial alliance and human perversion.
Frank Taylor was the heir to a foul legacy: little did he know it, but he was a Sumerian Berserker God, a devil of frightening and psychotic rages.
Today he was reading Wordsworth to a very bored L3.


* * *


'‚€™I‚€™ve measured it from side to side,
'‚€˜Tis two feet long and three feet wide.‚€™'
He stopped.
'Mark, if you don‚€™t stop talking to David I‚€™ll send you up to Mr Grey. Understood?'
'Understood, sir.'
'Look,' he decided to adopt a note of cautious camaraderie, putting the book face down on the desk. 'I know Wordsworth isn‚€™t the most fascinating topic we cover. I mean, I find him pretty tedious myself, you know ? What‚€™s more The Thorn is difficult enough to take seriously at the best of times. But if you concentrate we‚€™ll get through him and onto Frankenstein, which I know you‚€™re all looking forward to.'
An ironic cheer went up.
Frank felt a mixture of satisfaction and apprehension as he considered his last sentence. Yes, L3 would enjoy the book, it certainly had more impetus and verve to it than the dry husk of Wordsworth‚€™s dreadful attempts at rustic indolence (1798 must have been a really bad year). Also, he‚€™d parried the class onto a smoother track by the temptation of better fayre just around the corner. It was the apprehension, though, that followed him home and helped him unscrew the top off the bottle. He thought on it now and it made him drink with an added resolve.
Frankenstein taught by Frank Taylor.
Every teacher knew their nickname if they were lucky (or unlucky) enough to have one. No matter how hard the pupils tried to hide it, it was always discovered. Schoolchild logic was a fairly easy conundrum to crack and was very rarely burdened by finesse or subtlety. Or so he had believed. One particular example of grass roots nomenclature had, however, foxed the staffroom for some weeks until a little lateral thinking had been employed. A Geography teacher, the redoubtable Mrs Spring, had overheard the whispered word ‚€˜ettra‚€™ again and again. Perplexed, she had reported it back to her colleagues.
'Ettra ? How‚€™re you spelling that, Jean ?'
'E - T - T - R - A, I think, Frank.'
'Perhaps its an anagram,' piped up the tiny figure of Mrs Theodosius, the oldest member of staff (an ancient Greek some joked and, strangely, they were right), 'so we need to find some alternative spellings of it and mix everything up, yes ?'
This had appeared such an eminently sensible idea that the dozen or so teachers spent their break-time scribbling away attempting to find a hidden insult or description of the puzzled and increasingly concerned Mrs Spring. It proved a fruitless search.
'Well, I‚€™ve got 'treat' but it doesn‚€™t seem very ... '
'No.'
Mrs Spring was instructed to listen again, but the same message continued to be reported.
'It's 'ettra', no doubt about it,' she said, very much to herself, sometime later. Her large frame was squeezed into one corner of the staffroom and she absentmindedly stirred a cooling cup of tea, shaking her head.
'No, it's etre.'
It was a voice from the table in the centre, Peter Wincanton, the Lower School French teacher, marking books.
'Like I said, Peter.'
'No, etre, the French verb 'to be'. To be. To. Be. Tubby. They're having a bit of a go at you about your weight, Jean.'
This revelation had descended on Frank with alarm. If the kids could think up something like that what would happen once they had delved into the depths of Mary Shelley‚€™s laudanum-soaked imagination? He shuddered at the thought. He had not picked up a copy of the book in some years, probably not since college (a flared-trousers-and-long-sideburns nightmare he tried not to think of). He had enjoyed the novel of course, had immediately latched on to all that sweaty fear and sensuality. He knew that much of it wasn't Mary's work but the force was hers. Yes, that‚€™s right, the force. And all at twenty-one, too! It still amazed him. What else had lasted from that feverish night at the Villa Diodati? Nothing that could compare with the Modern Prometheus. She must have been quite a girl but, O God, the language! Frank steeled himself as he thumbed through the more gruesome descriptions.
He closed his eyes and wondered if they were cold and dead like the monster‚€™s.
'Give me strength,' he muttered.
Moving over to the television now, he picked up the bottle of Irish. The neck had already been devoured since returning from school, and it wasn‚€™t even dark yet. Frank sat back heavily into the armchair and poured himself four or five fingers of it. He reached for the remote control and punched the standby button.
The News flickered onto the screen.
So he sat, belligerent and annoyed, criticising the unstoppable sequence of talking heads as they preached at him.
'Bastards,' he said, at no-one in particular, 'One of these days I'll give you lot something to report all right, something to make your hair stand on end.'
He took another drink.
On the screen the newsreader spoke each word through a veil of agony. It was her first day and she felt like she‚€™d had a tongue transplant only hours previously.
'It‚€™ll get better,' they‚€™d told her at lunchtime after she‚€™d nearly shown the nation her meagre breakfast.
Two hundred and twelve generations ago her calm hands trephinned the skulls of Sami tribesmen in the bitter and isolated villages of Northern Norway, around what is now called Kautokeno; with heads full of wailing demons the fearful would seek her out. Now, that calm was gone, and there was a terrible pressure building up behind her eyes.
A reddish glow from the TV washed across Frank as he gave himself another generous triple. He was miles away, thinking about the perspiring, patronising look on Grey's face and wishing to erase it.
And when he thought of Grey he pictured the drab room he would have to report to the next morning and the plush study the Head would cocoon himself in all day long. He thought of the antique books that had never been read, not even in paperback, by the ignoramus in charge, and of that massive desk before which he had suffered humiliation after humiliation. He thought about his kids also. He conjured them up here, in his room. Vinnie Halls stood in front of him and licked a hard, white-headed spot on his top lip. Frank wanted to punch the ugly little turd into the middle of next week but sat pinned in his chair. He watched as a procession of children tweaked his despair until it burgeoned into cancerous tumours across his mind.


* * *


'Sir?'
No reply.
'Sir?'
Still nothing.
'Sir! '
'Yes, Sharon? Sorry.'
'S‚€™alright sir. Sir, what does prometheus mean ? It says in the front of my book that this is also called the modern prometheus.'
'Well, at last someone‚€™s had the nerve to ask. I wondered how long it‚€™d take. It‚€™s OK you lot, you know, I won‚€™t think you‚€™re thick; I don‚€™t expect you to know this anyhow. Now take notice because this is fairly crucial to the whole shebang as laid down here and will add to your understanding of the book.' Frank put his pen down and fixed the class with what he imagined was his you‚€™ll-find-this-interesting look.
'Now, as I said on Monday, Frankenstein stands as one of the keystone chapters in the whole Romantic movement of the last century and before. I hope you‚€™ve all got an idea of just which particular people we‚€™re ... '
A muttered list of Wordsworths, Coleridges and Southeys ebbed toward him from the first row.
' ... talking about. Good. OK, then. The Modern Prometheus - O, and please remember capitals there. Well, the Romantics were forever looking back to a more heroic and glorious era and a good source for them were the Greek myths. There was a whole range of conceits and symbols wrapped up neatly for them to steal and mould for their own devices.
'Prometheus fitted Mary‚€™s, erm, that is to say Shelley‚€™s plans perfectly. He was a mortal who had the nerve and audacity to steal the secret of Life, in the form of an Eternal Flame, from the gods. As punishment for this arrogant act they chained him to a rock where, every day, an eagle was sent to peck his entrails out. Every day they repaired themselves only to be devoured again and again. And this was to last for all time.
'A bit like this bloody job, boys and girls.'
He was fantastically disappointed to notice only two or three heads look up in bemused glee at this out of character outburst. He felt upset, tearful. Yes, he felt suddenly like he needed to cry.
'Are none of you little sods listening to me then?' he continued, 'I mean, here I am trying to give you something to talk about not just at break or lunch, but for the rest of your time here and, who knows, for years to come in whichever arse-end pubs you‚€™ll infest and you can‚€™t even do me the courtesy of listening!'
But he could hardly hear himself speak over the sounds of the showers and bone saws. He looked out over his pupils and smiled lasciviously at the sight. They hung upside-down, off huge meathooks, each hook attached to the ceiling on runners. Water sprayed onto their torsos, stripped as they were and split from gullet to groin. Blood and water dripped into conduits and was swept away. Each child opened its mouth over and over again. In the murmur he discerned several harmonies as the names of the Romantic protagonists were repeated by rote.
Frank stood up from his desk and worked his way between the swaying bodies. He carried on with the lesson.
'In Frankenstein Victor creates life and, because it is not his place to act God, he is crucified by the destruction of his family and friends without being destroyed himself.
'It‚€™s some story, that. Wouldn‚€™t you agree?'
Total quiet. What a pleasing moment!
But then, behind him, a sound. A shift in the air.
He turned and in an instant clutched Hemingford Grey‚€™s testicles so tightly his knuckles began to turn white. He screamed the foulest obscenities into that fat and blanched face and, with his other hand, punched him repeatedly in the stomach. The man was fading fast. Frank redoubled his grotesque efforts as the Headmaster‚€™s consciousness waned.
'I should have been thy Adam, but rather I am thy Fallen Angel!'
Grey's eyes flickered open.
Frank's eyes flew open. The bed sheets were ringing with sweat. His breath was coming in quick gallops.
The room was dark and dead.


* * *


He‚€™d been awake for hours by the time he walked through the school gates. His vivid and distressing nightmare had shot him into consciousness at around 3.30 and he hadn‚€™t been able to nod off since. The flat, subsequently, was immaculately tidy. As the sky around Headingly church spire lightened to its usual grey he drank cup of coffee after cup of coffee; briefcase and marked homework had lain propped against the front door for ages. The random hums from electric milk floats; the slamming doors of early risers; the crashing bikes of careless paper boys, their rags screeching about the very public and violent death of a young newsreader. Frank was up before all of this. He was going to catch the worm.
At the door he suddenly looked back and stared into the room that had contained the multiple nonsenses of his life for the past five years. He‚€™d been lucky to get this place, he remembered, one of the occasional episodes of happiness in a general drama of pain, or pattern of gloom, or whatever the bloody hell it was Hardy had said. He turned and left. The day beckoned him inexorably.
His walk led him past sights and sounds he‚€™d grown as accustomed to as the lines on his face. The cricket ground next to the rugby field, the bend this wall took, that chip shop (the one that was never open when the pubs turned out), the launderette he refused to use. All his ‚€˜alternative‚€™ routes to work were no longer that. Time for a change, he kept saying to himself. And every time he did say 'time for a change' he‚€™d start singing Sympathy for the Devil, which was funny because he didn‚€™t really like the Stones.
'Why am I rambling ?' he said out loud.
He began to hum Midnight Rambler.



* * *


Mr McGregor, the school caretaker (who had never molested children or killed homosexual hitch-hikers, despite all virulent rumours, but had in fact been chief chiropodist for Hannibal‚€™s elephants as they crossed the Alps), was the only visible soul as Frank walked around the playground. They nodded their hellos. McGregor looked with suspicion at the retreating figure, an action repeated by the discontented Frank.
'Officious little bastard!' they both thought during a moment of total synchronicity.
Frank headed for the form room.
There, he sat head-in-hands and waited for his rabble to arrive. Rabble, now there was a word only teachers ever used. It betrayed images of thousands of poorly taught children being clipped around the ear for not grasping some irrelevant concept at the first time of hearing.
He stood up, sighed, and turned to the blackboard behind him. In an intricate Gothic script he wrote a sentence upon it.
The children began to arrive a little more than an hour later. Without fail, each stopped and stared as they noticed that Mr Taylor (who had been acting dead strange recently) was already in the room. Disgruntled, they trudged to their allotted spots and sat in collective annoyance as Frank peered through his fingers. A tremble in his left arm as it rested on the table was developing into a noticeable shake. As the registration bell grew closer Frank decided to cut the strained atmosphere. He sat up straight. He looked them all in the eye. Then he looked back at his desk, blinked, and began to tidy his pen and stubs of chalk.
'Ah ... right ... today you needn‚€™t worry about staying. I‚€™ve cleared it with all your other teachers. So, you can just go home. Enjoy yourselves.' The last words were engulfed in the deafening roar of chairs scraping along the parquet and the rare shout of 'Cheers, sir!' as the thirty or so class members flung their energies into leaving the room. Only the thoughtful figure of Craig Ollerenshaw took his time to disappear. As he sidled out he gave Frank a stare that was a mixture of concern and fear. He had cultivated a sense of foreboding on his unusually slow walk to school this morning, ever since his dad had dropped an egg on the doorstep and the tiny jolting embryo had expired before his eyes, steaming in the cold air. Frank stared back and watched him, finally, pass through the door. Then, he just sat there and waited.
It wouldn‚€™t take long he decided, and he was right. After ten minutes or so he smiled as the stately footsteps of Hemingford Grey progressed up the corridor. He turned slowly to see the Head standing in the doorway. The boss was looking furious.
'Wotcha, aitch, how‚€™s it hanging?'
'I beg your pardon!'
'That‚€™s all right, mate, don‚€™t worry yourself about it. I worry too much: it‚€™s not good for you.'
Grey moved over to him. A vein pulsed beneath his ear and his eyes shifted briskly from side to side as if he couldn‚€™t take in the enormity of Frank‚€™s misdemeanour all at once. He leaned forward so that their faces were inches apart.
'Is this some sort of breakdown, Taylor?'
'How the fuck would you expect me to answer that if it was?'
A button had been pressed. This tiny profanity set Grey off onto a more extreme track.
'You‚€™re fired,' he said, 'you‚€™re fired. Fired. Do you here? Fired!'
'And you‚€™re dead meat, matey boy.'
Frank leaned back then launched himself at the other man. In the split second that his fist made contact with Grey‚€™s nose he could actually feel gristle and bone separate. The Headmaster flew backwards across the desks and cracked his skull as he crashed to the ground. When he opened his eyes the madman he‚€™d confronted was standing over him, speaking:
'Well, I had planned this lovely, long, lingering death but I‚€™m already pig-sick of the sight of you.'
He kicked him squarely in the cheek and marvelled at how much blood it produced and how far it spurted. He picked him up and threw him back at his own chair; Grey landed across the table, twisting in mid air, teeth and jaw breaking on the edge. The register was splashed with crimson.
Frank walked back, leaned over and grasped the man‚€™s hair. He looked into his eyes and was pleased to see consciousness still. He jerked the head up and directed it at the blackboard.
'Read it! Read it!'
'Hnnnhh.'
'The board. Read it. You understand?'
'N ... no ... '
'Tough.'
Frank smashed Grey‚€™s head against the desk‚€™s edge until hard thuds turned into soft squelches. He looked like he was wearing scarlet evening gloves.


* * *


In more peaceful times Terry Hilton had helped negotiate an end to the terrible inter-tribal wars that had dogged the North American peoples before the advent of the European Nations at the end of the Fifteenth Century. Columbus on the syllabus had always held a peculiar dread for him that he couldn‚€™t quite fathom.
Now he stared at the gruesome sight in front of him. That English teacher he‚€™d met once at some dreadful cheese and wine do was sitting on the window-sill muttering something foreign whilst the Headmaster dribbled his red-smeared brains across the floor.
'Everything all right?' was all he could think of to say. The raging demon that screached over to him and choked the life out of his body was everything but.
As it left in search of more mayhem, a despairing silence descended on the classroom.
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Old 5th Aug 2004, 11:11   #2
John Self
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That was truly horrible amner - but in a good way. The writing has real style and aplomb. Now I see why you're such a man of Peace...
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Old 7th Aug 2004, 15:14   #3
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'Ray that this is back on the board. Excellent short story :D
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Old 11th Aug 2004, 13:24   #4
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Great, gruesome writing .

Is this complete in itself or the beginning of something bigger? I guess the trouble with going on with it would be where do you go from here? After all I guess you don't want to do Buffy (though I'm sure John boy wouldn't agree!) Or may be my feeble imagination isn't dark and twisted enough. Maybe this is just the outer circle, and there are at least another 6 to go.

Alternatively it could all be in our narrator's mind. In his head he's a beserker demon, taking out his anger and frustration at the world on the world. In reality he's still teaching 3C. Somewhere along the line the line between what is real and what is not, dissolves.
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Old 11th Aug 2004, 13:56   #5
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Thanks, bak.

No, this is it, completed. Have been trying to sell it, but no-one was interested. Bastards.

Still, if literary fame and fortune give me the opportunity 'to do Buffy' I'll try a bit harder (even if I was always a Faith/Willow guy, though I can't really afford to be that choosy).
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 16:03   #6
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It might interest my Palimpular colleagues to know that I'm Going to Hum this Tune Forever has just been accepted for publication in Thirteen Magazine ("the UK's leading horror magazine"). I mention this in my most 'umblest manner and hope such blatant self-promotion doesn't upset anyone.

Not sure if they'll ask me to remove the story's entry here, either, which is something I ought to ask about. Anyway.
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 16:23   #7
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Well done mate!
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 16:31   #8
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Hip hip hooray!
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 17:39   #9
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And to think I knew you way back when....

way back when it was yesterday
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Old 13th Jan 2005, 19:20   #10
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Well done, sir.
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