‘Yeah, it’s really cool,’ said Mark. ‘I got to hide this camera anywhere in the school for this project I’m doing. I got permission from the head.’
We were standing at the front office. We – Elena, Mark, Iris, Kate and myself – had been about to leave school when the receptionist caught Iris and sent her to Mr. Tucker, our science teacher, who’d said he’d wanted her.
‘What a lovely day,’ sighed Elena. ‘The world is innocent and perfect under the glittering snow.’
We were waiting for Iris to come back for nearly half an hour now. Everyone had gone home but us. I tucked my hands in my pockets and huddled closer to Elena for warmth; at the rate the snow was falling, the five of us could get snowed in with the teachers. And knowing my track record for getting into fixes, I’d say we had a pretty good chance.
Just then, Mr. Tucker walked into the office, holding a vile smelling rag. He smiled at us but Elena stopped him, ‘Where’s Iris?’
‘Oh, she went home the back way,’ he said casually.
As he walked off, the four of us frowned, wondering why Iris had left when she knew we were waiting for her.
‘Well,’ I stepped in. ‘Let’s leave anyway.’
I made for the door, the others following me but the receptionist stopped us. ‘No, it’s too dangerous. You’re going to have to stay here tonight. I’ll text your parents, tell them you’re okay.’
See what I was saying about having a bad track record? Being forced to go to school for 7 hours a day was bad enough; being stuck in here for a full day was just the last straw.
‘Aw,’ whined Kate. ‘I was going to get fish and chips!’
‘With gravy?’ I asked, rolling my eyes.
‘Extra gravy,’ she nodded, mournfully.
‘Looks like we’re stuck,’ said Elena, removing her scarf. ‘Iris was lucky to get out when she did.’
Now we had full access to the school, with only a few teachers moving up and down.
‘What should we do?’ I asked, hands on my hips.
‘Trampolining?’ suggested Elena.
‘Urgh!’ responded Kate, making a face.
‘I think that’s a yes!’ I grinned and then gasped as Kate slapped me in the face, playfully, with her glove.
‘Why you little…’ I began, but she was already off, yelling, ‘Race you to the changing rooms!’
I was the last one there (Elena beat me, of course). Mark had said he was going to get his camera from wherever he’d kept it and see what the teacher did in their free time.
We girls quickly changed and hurried to the trampolines. There were three, once for each of us. Elena was already doing triple somersaults by the time Kate and I climbed onto ours. I was content with simple somersaults and Kate… well she just bounced around.
‘So where do you think Mark hid his camera?’ I asked in the middle of a back flip and immediately regretted it as I got hair in my mouth.
I bounced to a halt and heard Elena saying from somewhere behind me, ‘I hope in Ms. Spratt’s room. She’s going out with Mr. Tucker and often has him in her room. I want to know what they do in there.’
‘Well, that’s slightly creepy,’ I said, referring to what the teachers might be doing and also to Elena’s eagerness to know what they were doing. ‘Don’t you think, Kate?’
I turned around seeking support but all I saw was a not-in-use trampoline. ‘Kate?’ I repeated, slightly alarmed this time.
I don’t know what I was expecting to happen next but it certainly wasn’t a talking ceiling: ‘A little help up here guys!’
Shrieking, I looked up. Elena burst out laughing. There was Kate, clinging onto a beam on the ceiling for dear life.
‘How on earth did you get up there?’ asked Elena, trying to contain her sniggers.
‘How do you think?’ snapped Kate. Then she added bashfully, ‘I jumped too high.’
That set us off again. We got some cushioned pads and put them on the trampoline so Kate could land safely. She let go and fell, bouncing a few times before she stopped. Saying a shy thank you, she went and sat at the sidelines, content with just watching us.
I was about to get back on the trampoline when Mark walked in. He looked slightly disturbed, so I went up to him.
‘I put this in Mr. Tucker’s room,’ said Mark, holding up the camera. ‘when Iris was in with Mr. Tucker.’
‘Huh?’ said Elena, stopping in the middle of a straddle and hanging comically in the air. ‘But you were with us when she got called to Mr. Tucker just now.’
‘No,’ tutted Mark. ‘She went in earlier today as well – to ask for some work, I think. I entered when Mr. Tucker was in the cupboard, getting the work and placed the camera without him seeing me. Iris covered me as I exited. I played back the recording just now and saw Ms. Spratt walking into the room.’
‘Oh no,’ groaned Kate, sensing where this was going.
‘Oh yes,’ said Elena, her eyes gleaming.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, stepping in before this could turn into a full blown oh no/oh yes bicker-thon. ‘I’m with Kate on this one. No one’s watching the video till Mark tells us what happens.’
I sounded quite grown up there and was proud of my little speech. But if you know me, you’ll know that I had to go and spoil it: ‘Is it PG?’
‘What, the video?’ asked Mark, slightly confused.
Elena rolled her eyes at me and took the camera, playing the video. I looked at Kate, who was also watching, and grimaced, knowing I had no choice, but to join in or forever be deemed a ‘fraidy-cat.
So I joined them. Iris had just left Mr. Tucker with some papers in hand and Ms. Spratt slid in shortly after. Mr. Tucker grinned, handing her a wine glass I hadn’t seen before. As she drank, he went to the door and locked it and then drew the curtains across so the room was dark.
I groaned, ‘This is so not PG.’
Now Mr. Tucker had turned on two Bunsen burners and switched on some music and they were dancing around the room, Spanish style. As they waltzed past the sideboard, Tucker picked up something from the side. Ms. Spratt stayed oblivious, head resting on her boyfriend’s shoulder.
‘What was that?’ asked Elena.
‘I think it was a knife!’ said Kate, sharply.
‘Scalpel,’ I corrected her and then mouthed, ‘Whatever Brainiac,’ at exactly the same time as she said, ‘Whatever Brainiac’ out loud. It is fun having a best friend, you know?
Ignoring my amazing ventriloquist acts, Elena said, ‘I’m sure he’s just going to cut a lock of her hair to keep.’
No sooner had those words left her mouth then Mr. Tucker raised the scalpel and brought it down sharply into Ms. Spratt’s back. Her whole body bridled as if electrified. Again and again, Mr. Tucker brought the scalpel down into her back until she moved no more but lay limp and bleeding on the floor. I looked on in unadulterated horror as he dragged her body into the cupboard and left it there. He cleaned up the mess and then walked out of the room.
I looked up, realizing I was shivering and overcome by a sick feeling. We needed to do something fast! We were locked in school with a murderer and had incriminating evidence against him. This could end very badly. I also was satisfied to find my friends as shaken as I was, for some reason.
Suddenly, on a whim, I pulled out my phone and called Iris. She didn’t answer. I tried again and then gave up, asking Elena to call Iris’ mom. She answered and a stream of German followed. I couldn’t understand but from the look on Elena’s face, I knew something was wrong.
‘She’s not home, is she?’ asked Mark and I jumped, having forgotten he was there.
‘No; which means she’s with Mr. Tucker,’ said Elena. ‘I hope she’s okay.’
‘He must have thought that she’d seen something that might be used against him later,’ deduced Kate.
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘If your camera was recording until now then surely it must have recorded what Mr. Tucker did with Iris!’
‘Yes!’ said Mark. He took the camera and fiddled with it. We all crowded around him and watched Iris walking up to Mr. Tucker’s desk. He said something and not quite catching it, Iris bent over. Quick as a flash, he had a rag to her face and she struggled for only a few seconds before falling to the ground. He dragged her to the same cupboard as before.
‘Did he… suffocate her?’ whispered Elena.
I struggled with a thought. ‘No! That rag had some drug in it. I remember smelling it as he walked through the office earlier. At close quarters it can make someone unconscious.’
We all heaved a sigh of relief knowing Iris was sort-of-safe… for now.
‘We need to get her,’ said Kate. ‘Let’s just wait till he’s out of the room and then take her away.’
‘What’s the plan if we bump into Mr. Tucker?’ I asked. ‘Plan B?’
‘We won’t meet him. No need for Plan B,’ said Elena, brushing me off.
I shrugged, hoping I wouldn’t have to say, ‘WE SHOULD’VE HAD A PLAN B!’ later.
As we trooped to his room, we were surprised to find it unguarded. ‘I’ll stand guard,’ said Mark. ‘You get Iris.’
Elena, Kate and me rushed to the cupboard. It was open. Inside we found Iris, leaning against the corpse with blood on her skin. I tried not to gag as we pulled her out; Ms. Spratt was beginning to smell. Iris’ dead weight was heavier than we’d anticipated so we called Mark over to help.
‘What do we have here?’ came a voice from behind us.
‘Should’ve had a Plan B!’ I hissed at Elena.
She gave me a withering look. ‘Seriously. Not now.’
We turned slowly and I gasped to see a gun pointing at us.
‘Gimme the camera,’ he said. Darn! How did he know?
‘Or what?’ snarled Kate.
‘Or I’ll shoot you one by one,’ smiled Tucker, his grin making my stomach twist.
‘Oh,’ said Kate. ‘Right.’
I looked away and spotted a glass hatch in the ceiling – which was rather low. The roof just around the glass was clear of snow because this room was the hottest in school and heat escaping around the hatch had melted the snow. There was a hook in the ceiling next to the hatch. This gave me an idea.
Mark was just handing the camera over to Tucker. I snatched it saying, ‘Kate, think fast,’ and hurled it to her. She caught it and dropped to the ground just as Tucker fired. I grabbed a rope and forming a loop, threw it at the hook. Luckily, it caught first time. I shinned up the rope while Kate threw the camera to Elena who ducked behind a table to get out of the way of a shot.
Meanwhile, I reached the top and pushing the glass outwards, clambered through into the chilly air. Then I let my hands and legs dangle back in, saying, ‘Elena, pass!’ Elena threw the camera to me and I retreated a second before a shot from Tucker could decapitate me.
I stood up and began to run, which was hard in the thick snow, hoping that Tucker would follow. The plan was for him to follow me, Elena (being a monkey-like climber) to follow him, me to throw the camera to her, her to throw it down to Kate and Kate to exit the room and show an adult.
So far Tucker had followed me.
And he had the rope.
Now that Elena couldn’t follow, I was helpless, Tucker between the window and me, advancing slowly. He was twirling the rope in his hand, like a cowboy, and suddenly lashed out with it. I ducked, but too late. The rope tightened around my neck.
I had no choice; I stepped towards the edge and held the camera out, ‘Let go of the rope or I’ll drop the camera.’
A shot rang out. I gasped. He’d hit the camera, destroying it completely. ‘Now I’m done with that,’ he said. ‘I’m gonna get rid of you.’
He fired and I hit the ground, missing the bullet but then I lost my footing and fell off the roof. There I was dangling from my neck, my life at the fingertips of a sadistic science teacher. My hands were fumbling at my neck, desperately trying to loosen the rope. Tucker raised the gun again and I closed my eyes, accepting my fate when a heard a roar, ‘How many bullets does that darn thing have?!’
I looked just in time to see Kate lunging at Tucker. Unfortunately, he also saw her and struck her on the side of the head with his gun. She fell, helpless.
I was desperate for air now. Looking around me, I saw Tucker was standing at the edge of the roof. I also noticed there seemed to be a border of icicles keeping all the snow around him from falling off.
He was aiming at me again. I swung my legs, twisting and writhing. He clicked the safety off. I kicked for the biggest icicle in range.
And it smashed.
The snow underneath Tucker fell, taking him – and me – with it. Kate was clinging to the now-bare roof, screaming, ‘Nicole! NO!!’
And then the world went white.
When I woke up again, all my visible body parts were purple from the cold. I was indoors, near a fire, huddled up against Kate who stroking my hair. As I opened my eyes, I saw her visibly relax. From somewhere, Iris, Mark and Elena appeared and then we were all hugging.
‘Your head,’ I said groggily to Kate, who had an angry bruise where Tucker had hit her.
‘Your neck,’ she said back, laughing from the relief that everything was all right.
I gingerly touched my throat which had the skin rubbed off all around it. ‘What happened?’ I asked.
Elena explained. ‘Tucker’s a psychopath.’
I waited for more but then realized there wasn’t any. Turning to Mark I said, ‘Sorry about the camera. I lost all the evidence.’
He shrugged. ‘It’s okay. I pulled out the memory chip before you started playing hot potato with it.’
This took a moment to sink in. ‘So the evidence is safe?’
‘Yes. He’s up for trial in a week. They found him in the snow near you.’
‘So,’ said Iris. ‘That’s it.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. I turned to Elena, remembering what she’s said earlier on. ‘The world may look innocent and perfect under the glittering snow. But we know it’s not. And only true friendship and courage can make it better.’
‘To friendship and courage!’ cried Kate.
And there we sat. Five friends, with the world before us.