From: Sleuthwitch The Backstory
(NB: this work is copyright Philip Lee, 2013-2016)
Scurrying to school of a morning, Lucy swoops on a paper scroll that catches her eye. Thicker than a lollipop stick, too small for a leaflet, the brown object pulls out into a fifty-pound note. Finders keepers, as the saying goes. More on keepers later. Our plucky heroine folds the loot and slips it safely inside her jacket.
Lucy's jacket is of a pastel green, with a 1920s charabanc embroidered in white on the breast pocket. Close up, this vintage vehicle morphs into the Latin tag “Omnibus Unum” - meaning “One For All” (according to Google). The jacket is worn over tartan pleats, suggesting the twelve-year-old attends some private school, all leafy drive, high stone walls with ivy and grassy courts. Which is an utter herring, since Metcalfe is a pupil at Dovecliff Community Comp on the windswept backside of the Clayfields Estate. To which our hero is currently repairing on this misty Monday morning. And fifty smackeroos is a neat score to find on any street, though on this particular Ave, you'd guess it to be a cache of E-commerce. Could be rumbles in the schoolyard over a thing like that.
Lucy pats her pocket and scampers on all innocent-like; rounding corners, crossing roads, spending the loot in fifty ways. Indeed, her head is still spinning with permutations of book, footwear & other clothing accessory as she enters the school gates. Despite her youth, the girl is a scholar and gentlewoman, so all procurement schemes dive down to her soul as she is greeted by a hearty young lad, coupla years her senior,
The youth's regal head is framed in natty dreads, which drape over the collar of his uniform jacket. She corresponds,
The pair exchange nods or winks, then off the girl flirts to her place at morning assembly.
Lucy Metcalfe, full name, is enough of a swot to turn the blind-eyes of irritable teachers. Among classmates, she is less popular for saying whatever, whenever and to whomever she likes. Her perceived character, then, is a snotty introvert. As such, she would have been pulled after a sole appearance in the average cult series. Her looks are more at odds than striking. Creamy skin too milky for an ordinary white girl, jet black hair in natural curls, she is both thick lipped and blue-eyed. Yet it is the bravechick's world-weary moon-face that hints of secret vigils in solitary hours. A faraway look that is... well not going into any suchness here, but we'll get to the juicy bits when age allows. Outwardly, in her present state of development, she plays the typical study slut, the bright one sitting high on the fence, legs half-crossed, notepad in hand, foot dangling this side and that. She is only too wary of the pretty-hard girls, who see her as plain smug; and wary too of the scoffing boys, who run weary eyes over all that heave of breast on the sports field. For Dovecliff, as an institution, would school the mother of shame to a whore, and hell only knows what many a girl or boy would do for shifty fifty.
Around her, the Monday morning Assembly push and fidget as the hall fills up. If she closes her eyes for three seconds, the sound is deafening, a tottering Tower of Babel, all ready for the fall. She moves up to make room for a pair of tooth-braced comrades,
Thanks for saving my seat!
These other shiksas are Sandra Li and Padma, homeys of the Sisters Three. More on whom anon.
Morning classes proceed without remarkable event. Just old Mr Rudolph flaring his peeps at Lucy Metcalfe's elemental grasp of elementary algebra. And Ms. Bandaranaike patently ignoring the girl's dandy brushwork, while calling the idiot daubs of Tallulah Carmichael, “Inspired”! Ef, it is such an ordinary kind of day that our hero, by lunchtime bell, has simply forgotten her windfall, and legs it to be first in the canteen Q.
No plans to socialise with the homeys, see. That kinda gal.
By 12:45pm, ensconced in her favourite seat at the school library, forty mins of quiet bliss stretch ahead of afternoon classes. To wit: the witching hour. Lucy buries her nose in fat blue vol of Crowley's infamous Autohagiography.
Not THE Autowhatigarry?
To those out of the know, Crowley's number is The Beast 666. And if that don't mean nix to nobody either, suffice to say, Aleister Crowley is known to his acolytes as The Master. Lucy is soon transported to Calcutta at the turn of The Last Century, takes part in one of The Master's invisibility experiments. Drawing seven deep breaths, disguised in cloak & turban, she evades a gang of cut-throats and gets away with murder. Also to hand is picture book of Yoga breathing exercises, selected for comparative study. If the latter tome seems a tad out of place in this secondary school library, the former is an outrageous acquisition. The cause of which, Ms Jeanette Potts, librarian, having expanded Women's Studies reference shelves to include not only lurid accounts of witch trials in Lancashire, Scotland and Massachusetts, but feminist tracts on Wicca and, paying flagrant disrespect to the Dewey Decimal system, handbound manuals of Practical Magick, various exploitation novels & subscription magazines on The Black Arts. More on Ms. Pott's crimes and misdemeanours in a further Backstory episode. Meantime, our wonder gal has the library to herself. The clock ticks, leather armchair creaks on polished floorboard and pages turn with crisp regularity.
Before long, Second Sitting in the canteen being over, the quiet sanctuary of the Library is overturned. A Year-Four girl-gang, led by its skinhead boss Big Mo Morgan, has descended like stoned crows,
Thanks for saving my seat!
The leather armchair has no one's name cut into it, least of all Mo Morgan's runic moniker. Moreover, on previous look-ins at the library, the gang leader has barely tarried long enough to deface odd magazines or picture book. Giving the room a cursory second-glance, Mo's gaze flicks back on Lucy and her throne. The burly girl's bushy eyebrows are raised: she has said, “Thanks” - a rare privilege. To reinforce the message, she places a massaging hand on Lucy's Genuine Fake Swatch, which squashes the younger gal's wrist into the armchair's arm.
This Queen of Rough Diamonds, fully grown at fourteen years of age, possesses a grip as firm as the set of her lantern jaw. Lucy, without the benefit of Crowley's invisibility, is forced to look up from her book and proffer a bravechick chin,
Sorry? She gulps, voice mock-polite, Can I help you at all?
“At all, AT ALL? Whose talk is this?
A ripple goes through Big Mo's henchgals, attention-deficient bruisers, their pierced noses the better to be tweaked by any wiff of action. They drag wooden chairs into a semi-circle of audience participation. At the ready for such interludes, they tote chocky bars, bags of crunch and drink, all prohibited fare under library rules. Mo tugs Lucy's armchair, along with its human cargo, across polished wooden floor. The situation is not up for jaw-jaw.
Scoot! A black-eyed, frowning girl with hennaed dreads and cherry cola offers her twopence worth, Private little chat, innit? Shoulda effed it, gal!
Mo wags a finger at this upstart gang member, consigning all attempts at explanation to sheer folly. Meantime, it is Lucy's face that has cherried to the cola girl's words. She swallows hard and speaks up,
I'm sorry, I can't move. She shuffles the heavy chair, unwilling even to lift her bum, Turn me back, please!
Such faux apologies and pleads bode nought but ill for the swot, as testified by earnest munch of junk & drink cartons drained to the roaring vortex. Muscular Mo spins the heavy armchair to face the audience. A half-litre bovver-girl boldly dares to intervene,
Thought she said she couldn't move?
Now that Lucy's legs are within pinching distance of the gang, the tallest, plumpest girl, designer holes in silver grey tights and knees-up Doc Martens', snatches the Crowley,
“Autohaggy-whataggy”? Dirty book, eh? D'you get porno here?
The cola girl grabs the Yoga book and holds it open at a chaste Bodhisattva. The gangs' jaws drop as they glance round the shelves. There's an, Oh Em Gee, frigging library, innit? Splutters & yodels of disbelief & glee as mock uproar proceeds, Mo lifting one side of the armchair to tip its incumbent out. To stay put, Lucy leans towards her and, ever so gently, the girls' heads collide, as it were, in peak-to-peak amplitude. But this, as we know, is no meeting of minds. Rather, Mo lets go of the chair and has another think. Leaning forwards, she gives the side of Lucy's head a short sharp tap with hers. In a voice fuelled by yoga breathing exercises, Lucy shrieks,
Ow! That hurt!
Big Mo's tap is a truly inspired move and one that brings fresh chortles and whoops from the on-lookers. For her next, the bad gal shakes the armchair so violently that Lucy is forced to clamp her ankles round the legs in struggles to stay on board. The whoops rise in crescendo, but are cut short by the sharp rebuke of adult voice,
For shame, what is going on here?
It's the timeout arrival of librarian, Ms. Potts, who strides into the room with impatient scowl. Jeanette Potts cuts quite a figure: tall & thin, big boned, angular of face, trouser suited, unstockinged feet in flat shoes. Such conformity at thirty years of age commands cowering respect from the henchgals, You know the rules about bringing food and drink in here! The manner of their exit resembles a crack house party fumigated with tear gas.
The pesky librarian's intervention also forces Big Mo to release the armchair, though not to join the fleeing horde. Ms. Potts is one of the few teachers Mo Morgan has yet to show who's boss. And without having brought consumables into the library herself, she is under no threat of detention. Instead she picks up the Crowley's Confessions, lying by now on one of the vacant chairs, and hovers next to Lucy, flicking through its pages in due reverence to such great literature,
Brilliant book, this! Meaning to read it myself. Still... you having got it first...
The telephone rings, summoning Ms. Potts to her desk. Mo smiles. Closing the book, she plonks it in Lucy's lap. As she leans down, her mouth draws level with the younger girl's ear and she whispers,
You're dead. Four o'clock on the Rec.
Lucy swallows hard again, eyes narrowed in defiance. Her voice, cut straight from Mandy's Own 1977 Annual, warbles, louder than necessary,
We shall see about that.
Mo snorts and stalks out, shoulders bobbing with hollow mirth.
Lucy is still rubbing the side of her head when Ms. Potts has dealt with the telephone interruption. At the touch of teacher's hand on shoulder, the gal's face convulses and tears spout from her eyes. Jeanette Potts is visibly shocked. She slinks a friendly arm round Lucy's back,
That creature is a real menace. Broke a boy's nose. An old story. Even most teachers are frightened of her.
Ms. Potts' hand having come to rest on her hip, Lucy shakes herself and brushes away the tears with cuff of jacket. Teacher is not put out,
Sure about that? Not sinking to her level, are we?
She's got it coming.
At four o'clock, there would be a crucifixion on the Recreation ground with a young novice witch as the victim. Many pupils get turned on by that sort of thing. Not this one.
Finally left to herself, Lucy reopens the Crowley and stares sightlessly at a random page. Typical! Just when things were looking up! Beelzebub's Bluebottled Bum! She has remembered the fifty pound note.
She reaches inside her jacket and feels the thick paper note. Isn't that just the way of it? She says farewell to the windfall with twitch of chin. What else is money for, when Mo Morgan has it in for you? There is, of course, no such thing as good luck or even bad. What you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts, that's the logic of chance. So, what's it to be? Apologise with tears in yo' eyes and offer the loot as compensation for the armchair? Which might not work. There’s no telling what an utter psycho like Big Mo will do. Take the money and still half cripple you. Lucy's eyes have alighted on the Yoga book cover. The ivory blonde in leotards does the Lotus position, hands pressed together above her head. Balls to meditation! You're better off with judo!
A book snaps shut. Startled, Ms. Potts sits up. Lucy Metcalfe is returning the new Crowley to its place on the shelf. The darling girl is grim-faced. It's still only five past one, twenty minutes before classes resume. Jeanette Potts tries to catch her eye. Even though it's a new acquisition, she could still borrow it, at a pinch. Take the thing home and read it in peace, sneak it into bed for pity's sake.
Lucy, nervous glances to left and right, exits towards the utility sheds at rear of school yard. As well as keeping due diligence, she's on the lookout for her brother. No joy at first, she goes on biting lip and wringing hands, ploughs through a group of classmates. Kids nudge and whisper in her wake. Hark the heralds! In ten minutes, word has already spread that Lucy Metcalfe's getting it on the Rec at four o'clock! The whole school has pictured the torchlight procession, the thrashing ring of mean girls and curious boys, then the beacon flash of ambulance.
Thankfully, before long, Lucy runs into Daryl, larking with one of his friends. Her brother is in bulk, laughing at some idiot remark. His sister's wild and reddened eyes only stir him further up,
What's the do? Caught with make-up again?
The two boys crease. Lucy tuts, takes Daryl's sleeve and draws him away from the crony. This brother is more of a clown than a baddie. Some of his mates are bad, though, dead bad. She puts her hand over his ear,
Buy me some E's, will you?
E's? His jaw drops in mock surprise. Actually, it is real surprise. He peers into her face, eyeballs flicking from side to side. He mimes his reply, lips going: “What you want E's for?”
They're not for me. There's fifty quid. I need them by break this arvo. She presses the folded note into his hand. He takes one furtive glance, then another to make sure. Well-phased, Daryl does his best not to show it,
At break. Don't let me down!
She finds her friends of the tooth braces, Padma Sethi and Sandra Li Yu. By their arms akimbo, they too have harked the heralds,
Hey, what's all this about you and Big Mo?
You're off your rocker, girl!
Lucy, buoyed by her brother, is calm enough to force a smile,
There was a little misunderstanding in the library. Everything'll come good, just you wait and see!
Padma Sethi, who is Asian in matters of race and religion, is allowed to wear black silk pyjama keks under her tartan skirt. In matters of sex and violence, she is retro Goth,
Can I be your second? I mean, can I hold your jacket while she scratches your eyes out?
Sandra Li is more yr China Seas hipster,
I should get myself on detention if I were you. Big Mo won't hang around until five o'clock.
Lucy in detention? That's not going to happen! She could do a lap dance in the middle of theology and they'd just send her home with flowers.
They all snigger. The previous week, Daniel Ivers stripped off in theology class, ending up with a leaf stuck on the crotch of his undies. Teacher was late and he got clean away with it. Lucy snaps her fingers,
Hey, I was in detention once!
There's a beat, then Padma replays the Year-One occasion,
Oh yeah! Over that sausage! But you owned up, didn't you?
Lucy shrugs. It was either her neck on the block or the whole class got it. Sandra Li shakes her head,
Such a hero! Get real, will you? Soon as bell goes, make for the gates and run. We'll cover for you, won't we, Paddy?
Padma folds her arms,
Yes, we'll run the other way. As a diversion!
Afternoon school divides into two long classes with a twenty minute break between. Handily the first class is computer studies, enabling Lucy to slyly print an A4 sheet. No one should guess what she is at, nor must she get finger prints on paper. She presses the sheet in four with elbow, holds it by the edges & slips it into jacket pocket.
Padma and Sandra Li loyally follow her into the yard at break. She loses them and catches up with Daryl on his usual ground. He's looking pleased with himself and hands her a small sealed bag of three white tablets. Kept a couple back for himself, has he? Daryl is fifteen, old and daft enough to be doing whatever. Lucy bites her lip. What she is about to attempt is selfish & coward-like as well as suicidal & brave. She looks her brother over and he gives her a nut-gone smile. He'll be home late then. She punches him in the upper arm,
Take care now!
There are only twelve minutes left, no time to stop and think her plan out again. Weather is fine and so the whole Lower School of eight hundred pupils has poured out of doors. Big Mo and her gang will be skulking somewhere in the exercise yards. You're not allowed inside until bell time. This is when Lucy Metcalfe, student of Magick, could do with a real invisibility cloak. Duty teachers and monitors stand guard at wing doors. How can you simply walk through the front entrance, passing Reception as if you had every right?
She slows her pace and takes seven deep ones, letting the air out evenly each time. She arrives at the school gate where a row of coloured recycling sacks are waiting to be collected by council lorry. She lifts a large yellow one, not as heavy as it looks, slings it over her shoulder and heads back towards the main entrance. The trick is be challenging & not be challenged. She sets her face to neutral. In a low murmur, lips barely quivering, chants the sole Buddhist text she has memorised, “Om Mani Padmi Om”.
Ms. Draper, the receptionist, is a youngish woman in purple who only started in September. Lucy, crossing the school lobby, thumbs at the sack across her shoulder and shrugs. The young woman is sorting letters and barely raises an eye. Lucy walks on, turns gracefully out of sight, then bounds up the staircase to the Year-Four corridor. The yellow sack is dumped inside girls' lav. At the far end she stops and frowns.
Big Mo Morgan's class is a Special Form of only fifteen or so kids, all with low literacy and numeracy grades. Lucy has never been into a Special Form and peers through the inside windows for the first time. It looks like nursery class: great labelled pictures of the solar system and hand-washing instructions plaster the walls. Wide gaps stretch between desks, as if the occupants need to be able to swing their arms. There are even posters on the ceiling. A giant gas planet slowly expands until it mergers with her heart. To compensate, she breathes in extra deep, reaching into the dark plexus of resolve. Which works long enough to propel her through the door. But as soon as she is inside she sees this strange world of low achievement is inhabited.
Two boys sit on a desk at the back. When the door clicks shut, their heads swing round. Up to what, eh? Lucy frowns. The words shoot over her shoulder as if straight from Ms. Potts' own lips,
For shame, what is going on in here?
The guilty rogues jump to their feet. One is adjusting his keks, the other has an arm over his face. This girl, who must be a monitor, strides towards them. In terror, they spin round the desks and go into warp drive. The door bangs behind them.
Phew! Lucy Metcalfe glares at her Genuine Fake. The big hand says eight minutes to the bell. She begins searching for Mo Morgan's pew. All the desks are sad dustbins stuffed with wrecked text books, old comics and empty biscuit boxes; everything is covered in slash & scribble. There is nothing remotely resembling a monogrammed bag or pencil case. Some desks have their owner's pen names cut into the lids, but Big Mo's runes are nowhere to be found. After wasting many minutes, panic is setting in. She looks round the form, amazed there aren't any satchels or cases anywhere. These kids mustn't get homework! If they do, they don't bother taking it home. Time is running out.
She turns her attention to the jackets, six or seven of which are slung over chair-backs. This is in desperation, mind, as Big Mo never wears a jacket in school, always goes around with blouse sleeves rolled, even in the freezing cold. But she must carry her jacket into school every morning, else she won't be let in at the gates. That's one rule no pupil can break, shy of earning the family an Order of the Boot. Lucy scans the labels under the collars. Still no joy. Only two have names, neither of them hers. She goes through the pockets of the rest. There are bus passes with photos, forms & envelopes with names and addresses. Still no sign. Then it strikes the bravechick that one jacket is more faded than the others. She closes in on it. No name, pockets more or less empty, strange feel to the material... That's it! It's not a real Dovecliff jacket, doesn't even have a badge! Why should it? You won't catch Big Mo with any Latin tag on her breast. Lucy wipes the bag of E's clean of finger prints and stuffs it into the inside pocket.
Less than a minute to go! Taking the rear stairs, she flutters down to the ground floor. Mr. Wallis, the school Welfare Officer, always does the bell. His office is in the far corner of the school lobby, facing Reception. The push-button for the bell, however, is way over on the opposite wall, just behind Ms. Draper's desk. Lucy comes to ground in front of the Year-One notice board, which is only two steps short of Wallis' door. She leans there, holding the folded A4 sheet between forefinger tips and thumb, pretending to read something. Her head is at a bad angle, the door just visible in the corner of one eye. There follows a series of agonising beats. Hecate and the night! The blasted oaf is waffling to a parent on the phone! What a prat! Typical! Afternoon break is always like this. Not that anyone ever complains! Finally Lucy sees Wallis' purple suit darting past. She slides into his doorway and freezes. There is only enough time to drop the note on the floor and flee.
As the bell rings out, she scoots back towards the stairs. She takes them three at a time, though there is little point hurrying now. In the safety of the corridor, she leans back against the wall, pants and shakes her head. None of it feels right. The Es are in the wrong jacket and anyroad Wallis will miss the paper on the floor of his office. All fifty quid are flushed down the grid. The big fight is still on. She will die the death!
Moments later, the corridor is full of Year-Threes coming up for the final class of the day.
At four o'clock, the fateful last bell of the day rings out. Padma and Sandra Li stick to their friend, who is in no hurry to leave the school. They linger in class, biding the condemned prisoner's last wishes on her way to the scaffold. They're not the only ones straining to see the funny side. At the head of the stairwell, a fourth year girl points her out,
Dead man walking!
Just as unfunny is the nudge and jostle of all three homeys by older girls and boys on their way down.
But the atmosphere in Reception is not conducive to outbursts of gallows humour. Mr Wallis and Ms. Blears, the silver-haired Headmistress stand in the lobby with a uniformed policewoman. Hisses and bleeps of police radio pacify the usual background din. Pupils' voices are actually hushed and furtive as they file past on tender feet. Moreover, Mr. Wallis' face has a look of beatific triumph; while Ms. Blears, deep in conversation with The Law, is gravely nodding and shaking her head by turns. Callooh! Callay!
At the gate, Lucy half dreads to see Big Mo bundled into a police van. She is spared that honour. In fact, pupils are streaming down the street without gathering in their usual knots. Lucy, framed between her amazed homeys, sallies forth,
Shall we have a nice, peaceful trolley through the Rec?