This is Issue #5 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.
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By the time Jet got to the infirmary, out of breath and wild-eyed, Kieron’s bed was empty. He ran back to the desk, gripping the top of it, his hands whiteknuckled. “Where,” he panted. “Where’s Key?”
Not amused to be interrupted by dramatics, the assistant behind the desk said, “Brody’s parents picked him up. He’s gone.”
“No, he can’t be gone!” Jet shouted. “He’s not sick!”
The man behind the desk pointed to the door, saying, “This area is for those recuperating from injury or illness. You are neither. Please leave.”
“I have to see him!” Jet said, pounding his fists on the desk — it startled the assistant, but more importantly, it infuriated the man walking back in to the infirmary — the Headmaster.
Jet’s eyes were huge as he took in the forbidding figure, and he finally sagged, as if realizing the futility.
“Mr. Harrington. My office,” the headmaster snapped. After a long, anguished moment in which Jet calculated how hard it would be to run past the headmaster and get down to the main entrance, Jet nodded, slumping off past the assistant, and down the hall.
* * *
The waiting room outside Headmaster’s Olivier’s office was plush, but the chairs were uncomfortable. No one sitting there could sit still, but under the cold eyes of Olivier’s assistant, no one could squirm for long, either. Jet waited, alternately wringing and sitting on his hands, his eyes wandering over the same six pictures on the walls, the three paintings of old battle sites, two stormy seascapes, and a set of distant mountains. Unable to pace or fidget, he finally began to doze from the exhaustion that comes after all adrenaline has been spent.
“Harrington!” Olivier’s voice was a knife. “Inside. Now.” He brushed by the boy and slipped into his office, leaving the door open for him. “Shut it behind you,” he commanded, and rounded his desk.
Jet followed in, as he was bid, and shut the door, then turned around and tried to find a reasonable place to be. He’d never had cause to be summoned to the Headmaster’s office before.
He finally stood near to the seat in front of the desk; with the door shut, the fire roaring, and the shades shut against the snowy night, the room had an odd warmth to it, one that belied its purpose as Jet imagined it: a place of punishment. He waited, looking down at his feet, knowing he shouldn’t move.
“Harrington,” Olivier said, and Jet looked up, his eyes widening. There were traces of sympathy in the sound of the man’s voice, but his eyes were anything but friendly. “I want you to take the next two days for reflection.”
“Sir?” Jet was stunned. What was this?
“Hear me out. The next two days, all of tomorrow, you are formally released from all structured chapel services, classes, duties, and assigned responsibilities,” Harrington said. “You will spend it in contemplation.”
“Yes, sir,” Jet said, not daring to smile. He would have to catch up on notes, figure out how to get the readings and assignments, but this was far, far less a punishment than he’d imagined.
Just then, the doors opened, and two prefects entered.
“Ah, yes. Wallace and Stevens. Please escort Harrington to a contemplation room,” Olivier said, and the way his mouth twisted made Jet believe the man was making a joke of some kind, only the young man couldn’t quite make it out. He got up, and looked to the prefects who nodded, and guided Jet back out of the room.
They walked him to the main hall, but instead of going to the dorms, Jet was led past the science labs and into an unused section of the school below the shooting ranges. At this time of the night, no one was in them; the halls were silent, save for the clacking boots of the three headed through the halls. After one last turn, Wallace opened a door and Stevens gestured for Jet to go in first.
He did so, but stopped not far in; there were no lights in that room, and he didn’t want to bump into anything. “Wait, I don’t–” he began, but then he felt the air rush out of him as Wallace’s booted foot made contact with his chest. He fell back, and skidded over the not-quite-smoothed concrete floor, the rough of it tearing his uniform pants and abrading his palms.
Stevens leaned over him, snarling, “Stay down, Harrington.”
Jet did, the realization coming to him. This wasn’t two days of contemplation. This wasn’t reflection. This was solitary. Two days of this room, all alone. “Wait. WAIT! No please!” The panic hit him as the door was pulled shut, and he threw himself at it, as a caught moth does to the jar in which it is prisoner, battering himself against the door and the wall, screaming until he made himself hoarse. “Please! No! Open the door — let me out! LET ME OUT!”
There was no light; the room was small, almost two full paces deep, only a pace and a half wide. Just enough room to lie down, which Jet did. Then he curled up into a ball near the door, fingers scrabbling at the seam of it, until he could feel the nails gone torn and bloody.
Tears on his face dried.
He had no concept of time. What felt like hours and hours could have been only moments.
All he knew was that somewhere in the middle of it, he grew desperately thirsty, cavernously hungry, and had to piss like a racehorse. He waited, and waited, imagining they would not leave him here without food or water, but no one came. No one came for what had to have been hours and hours. He inched around the tiny room, wondering if it had merely been a closet, repurposed, or if he’d been left a pot, or a drain hole. There was nothing, so when he could finally hold it no more, he simply let it go against the back corner, hoping it wouldn’t simply spread everywhere.
The smell of it, fear and ammonia, filled the tiny room, and made him sick to his stomach.
The relief to his bladder was immense, however, and he fell into an exhausted sleep shortly after.
When he woke, disoriented, it took him a moment to realize where he was, and when he gingerly put his hands out to help himself up, they splashed in cold urine, and it stung the hell out of his scraped fingernails. Not for the first time since the beginning of the first night in solitary, Jet cried, and carefully tried wiping his hands off on the calves of his uniform pants.
When the door finally pulled open, he tumbled into the hallway, at the feet of the Wallace and Stevens. Everything outside of that room was blindingly bright, and Jet put his hands over his eyes, crying out. The two prefects hauled him to his feet, despite his protests, and dragged him back toward the main part of the school.
He was shoved into the shared baths, and handed a bag of fresh clothing, and told, “You’ve got thirty minutes to collect yourself. Then you’ll report back to the Headmaster’s office.” Jet nodded that he understood, and when he went to take off his shirt, with shaking hands, as soon as his arms and face were caught up in the under shirt, each of the prefects caught him in the stomach with a closed fist punch. He went down with a whooping choking sound, curling up, struggling to get the fabric away from his face, even as he tried to keep his kidneys protected.
He couldn’t see it, but the door opened, and shut — he went deathly still. Once he thought he was alone, he sat up and tore the shirt away from his head, gasping, fresh tears in his eyes. He gingerly got up and removed his boots and the rest of his clothes, turning on one of the showers. His eyes were finally getting used to the light, and the hot water and even the caustic soap were a relief.
Thirty minutes later, he was dressed, and approaching the headmaster’s office, his hands jammed in his pockets, his head down. It was a horror; he would have nightmares, but it was over now, right? He trudged along the hall, feeling exhausted, but strangely relieved. He had been punished, and now it was over.
It wasn’t until he entered the waiting area that he realized he was wrong — his punishment was far from over. Not only was Hoyt Redwell there, waiting for him, but so were Hoyt’s parents, as well as his own — and Kieron’s.
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