We're absolutely thrilled to be publishing C.J Daugherty's Night School in January 2012! To give you a feel for the book's chilling atmosphere, take a look at the trailer before reading the first two chapters below…
‘Will you chill out? I’m almost finished.’
Her jaw set, Allie crouched in the dark, painting the last T as Mark knelt beside her holding a torch. Their voices echoed in the empty corridor. The light beam illuminating her work quivered when he laughed.
A sudden snapping sound made them both jump.
Lights flickered above them, then flooded the school hallway.
Two uniforms stood by the door.
Allie dropped the can of paint slowly without taking her finger off the trigger, causing the letter to stretch freakishly down the door of the headmaster’s office to the dirty, linoleum floor.
As the word left her lips, she was already flying down the wide corridor, the rubber soles of her trainers squeaking hollowly in the emptiness of Brixton Hill School. She didn’t look back to see if Mark was behind her.
She didn’t know where the others were, but if Harry got caught again his dad would kill him. Rounding the corner at speed she turned onto a dark stretch of corridor. At the end of it she saw the green glow of a fire exit sign.
A thrill of power rushed through her as she ran towards freedom. She was going to make it out. She was going to get away with it.
Crashing into the double doors, she shoved hard against the bar that should have freed her.
It didn’t budge. Unbelieving, she shoved again, but the door was locked.
Bloody hell. If I hadn’t just been vandalising the place, she thought, I’d alert the local paper.
Feverishly she scanned the wide corridor. The police were between her and the main entrance. The only exit at this end was locked.
There had to be another way out.
She held her breath to listen. Voices and footsteps heading her way.
Resting her hands on her knees, she let her head drop low between her shoulders. It could not go down this way. Her parents would destroy her. A third arrest in a year? It was bad enough when they made her go to this godforsaken school. Where would they send her now?
She ran to a nearby door.
One, two, three steps.
She tried the handle.
Across the hall to another.
One, two, three, four steps.
She was now running towards the police. This was crazy.
But the third door opened. A supply closet.
They left the supply closet unlocked but locked empty classrooms? This school is run by idiots.
Slipping in gingerly among the shelves of paper, mop buckets and electrical equipment she couldn’t identify in the gloom, she let the door close behind her and steadied her breathing.
It was black as pitch. She held her hand up in front of her face – right in front of her face – and she couldn’t see it. She knew it was there; she could feel its existence. But not being able to see it was instantly disorienting. Reaching out to steady herself, she gasped as a top-heavy pile of papers began to slip. She struggled to rebalance it without being able to see it.
Outside the door she could hear faint voices; they sounded far away. She just had to wait a few more minutes and they’d be gone. Just a few more minutes.
It was hot, airless.
She counted her heavy breaths. . . . twelve, thirteen, fourteen. . .
But it was happening. That feeling of being encased in concrete, unable to breathe. Her heart pounding, rising panic burned in her throat.
Please calm down, Allie, she begged herself. Just five minutes and you’ll be safe. The guys’ll never tell.
But it wasn’t working. She felt dizzy; suffocated.
She had to get out.
As sweat streamed down her face and the floor seemed to swing beneath her, she reached for the door handle.
No no no . . . It can’t be.
The inside of the door was completely smooth.
Frantic, she felt the entirety of the impassive door, then the wall around it. Nothing. There was no way to open it from the inside.
She shoved the door, scratched at its edges with her nails, but it would not give. Her breath came harder now.
It was so dark.
Curling her hands into fists, she pounded on the smooth, unyielding door.
‘Help! I can’t breathe. Open the door!’
There was no response.
‘Help me! Please?’
She hated the pleading tone in her own voice. Sobbing now, she put her cheek against the door and gasped for air as she slapped the wood with her hands.
When the door opened, it did it so suddenly that she fell forward helplessly, straight into the arms of a police officer. He held her at arm’s length, shining a torch into her eyes, taking in the wild hair and tear-streaked cheeks.
He grinned over her head at the other cop. That was when Allie saw Mark, his head down and his cap missing. His arm was firmly in the grip of another officer, who grinned back.
Against the constant rumble of a police station on a summer Friday night, Allie heard her father’s voice as clearly as if he were standing in front of her. She stopped twirling her hair and looked anxiously at the door.
‘I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. I’m very sorry for the bother,’ she heard. The tone in his voice was one she knew quite well: humiliated. By her. She heard another male voice she couldn’t quite make out and then her dad again, ‘Yes, we’re taking steps, and I appreciate your advice. We’ll discuss this and make a decision tomorrow.’
Decision? What kind of decision?
Then the door opened, and her grey eyes met his tired blue ones. She felt her heart twist in her chest just a little. Unshaven and rumpled, he looked older. And very tired.
He handed a few papers to the female officer who barely glanced at them before adding them to her stack of paperwork. She reached into a drawer and pulled out an envelope containing Allie’s things, which she shoved across the desk to Allie’s father. Without looking at either of them she said robotically, ‘You’ve been released into your father’s care. You’re free to go.’
Allie rose stiffly and followed her dad down narrow brightly lit corridors to the front door.
When they were outside in the cool summer air she breathed deeply. Relief at being out of the police station mingled with anxiety about the expression on her father’s face. They walked to the car in silence. From across the street her father unlocked the door of the black Ford and it beeped its incongruously chirpy welcome. When he started the engine, she turned to him earnestly, her eyes filled with explanations.
‘Dad . . . ’
He looked straight ahead, his jaw tense. ‘Alyson. Don’t.’
‘Don’t talk. Just . . . sit there.’
After that, their journey was silent. And at their house, he got out of the car without a word. Allie scrambled after him, the worried feeling in the pit of her stomach growing.
He didn’t seem angry. He seemed . . . empty.
Allie walked up the stairs and down the hallway, past her brother’s empty room. In the safety of her own bedroom, she studied herself in the mirror. Her shoulder-length, henna-red hair was tangled, black paint was smeared on her left temple and mascara was smudged under her eyes. She smelled of stale sweat and fear.
‘Well,’ she told her reflection, ‘maybe it could have been worse.’
When she awoke the next day it was nearly noon. Climbing out from under the rumpled duvet, she threw on a pair of jeans and a white vest top. Then she cautiously opened her door.
She tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen, where sunshine streamed through the big windows onto clean wooden countertops. Bread had been set out for her with butter that was melting in the heat. A teacup sat by the kettle, ready with a teabag inside.
Despite everything, she really was hungry. She sliced a piece of bread and dropped it into the toaster. She turned the radio on to fill the silence but then, after a moment, switched it off again.
She ate quickly, flipping through the pages of yesterday’s newspaper without really looking at it. Only when she’d finished did she notice the note near the kitchen door.
Back this afternoon. Do NOT leave the house.
Instinctively, she reached for the phone to call Mark, but it wasn’t in its usual place by the fridge.
Leaning against the wooden counter she drummed her fingers, listening to the steady ticking of the big clock above the stove.
Or were they tocks?
How do you tell the diff . . . ?
‘Right.’ She straightened and slapped her hand on the pine countertop. ‘Screw this.’
She ran upstairs to her room and yanked open the top drawer of her desk to get her laptop.
The drawer was empty.
She stood still, contemplating the meaning inherent in its absence. Her shoulders slumped just a little.
Her parents did not return until late that afternoon. She’d been waiting anxiously – hopping up to peer through the window every time a car door slammed – but when they finally did come home she adopted an air of disinterest, staying curled up in the big leather chair watching TV with the sound off.
Her mother dropped her handbag in its usual place on the hallway table, and followed her father into the kitchen to help make tea. Through the open door Allie saw her rest a hand reassuringly on her father’s shoulder for just a second before moving to the refrigerator for the milk.
This looks bad.
A few minutes later they were perched side-by-side on the navy blue sofa across from her. Her dad’s hair was neatly combed now, but he had circles under his eyes. Her mother’s expression was calm but her lips were in a tight line.
‘Alyson . . . ’ her father began, then faltered. He rubbed hiseyes wearily.
Her mother took over. ‘We’ve been talking about what we can do to help you.’
‘Obviously you’ve not been happy at your current school.’ She was speaking very precisely and slowly. Allie’s eyes darted from one parent to the other. ‘Now that you’ve broken in, set fire to your records and spray-painted “Ross is a twat” on Headmaster Ross’ door, it’s hardly surprising that they’re not very happy with you either.’
Allie chewed on the cuticle of her little finger and fought the urge to giggle nervously. Giggling now really wouldn’t help. ‘This will be the second school to ask us, very politely, to send you somewhere else to study. We’re tired of receiving very polite letters from schools.’
Her father leaned forward and looked Allie in the eye for the first time since he’d picked her up from the police station.
‘We understand that you’re acting out, Alyson,’ he said. ‘We understand that this is how you’ve chosen to deal with everything that’s happened, but we’ve had enough. Graffiti, truancy, vandalism . . . Enough. You’ve made your point.’
Allie opened her mouth to defend herself but her mother shot her a warning look. She pulled her feet up and wrapped her arms around her knees. Now it was her mother’s turn again. ‘Last night, the helpful police liaison officer – who, by the way, knew all about you – suggested we send you to a different school. Out of London. Away from your friends.’
She said the last word with bitter contempt.
‘We made a few calls this morning, and we’ve . . . ’ her mother paused, glancing across at her father almost uncertainly before continuing, ‘we’ve found a place that specialises in teenagers like you . . . ’
‘ . . . and today we went to visit it. We’ve spoken to the headmistress . . . ’
‘Who was absolutely lovely,’ her dad interjected.
Her mother ignored him. ‘. . . and she’s agreed to accept you starting this week.’
‘Hang on . . . This week?’ Allie’s voice rose in disbelief. ‘But the summer holiday only started two weeks ago!’
‘You’ll board,’ her father said as if she hadn’t spoken. Allie stared at him, her mouth agape.
The word reverberated in her head.
They have got to be joking, she told herself.
‘ . . . which will be difficult for us to afford, but we think it’s worthwhile to try and save you from yourself before you throw your whole life away. You’re a juvenile now in the eyes of the law, but you won’t be for long.’ He slapped his hand on the arm of the sofa, and Allie stared at him. ‘You’re sixteen years old, Alyson. This has to stop.’
Allie listened to her heart pound.
Thirteen beats. Fourteen, fifteen . . .
She couldn’t believe how bad this was. It was unbelievably bad. Record-setting levels of badness were happening right now in this room. She leaned forward in the chair.
‘Look, I know I messed up. I feel really, really awful about it.’ She put as much sincerity as she could into her voice. Her mother looked unmoved, so she turned to her father, imploring. ‘But don’t you think you’re overreacting? Dad, this is crazy!’
Allie’s mother glanced again at her father; this time her gaze was imposing. He looked back at Allie sadly and shook his head.
‘It’s too late,’ he said. ‘The decision has been made. You start on Wednesday. Until then no computer, no phone, no iPod. And no leaving this house.’
When her parents stood up it felt like the judge was leaving the courtroom. In the emptiness they left behind, Allie exhaled shakily.
The next few days went by in a blur of confusion and isolation. She was supposed to be packing and getting ready, but mostly she tried to talk her parents out of their crazy plan.
She got nowhere. They barely spoke to her at all.
On Tuesday afternoon, her mother handed her a slim ivory envelope dominated by an elaborate crest in thick black ink and the words: Cimmeria Academy. Below that, ‘Information for New Students’ was beautifully written in curly handwriting.
The two sheets of paper inside appeared to have been written on a typewriter. She wasn’t certain – she’d never actually seen typewritten paper – but the small, square letters each made a noticeable indentation in the thick creamy paper. Each page held only a few paragraphs; the first was a letter from the school’s headmistress, an Isabelle le Fanult. She said she was looking forward to welcoming Allie to the school.
Oh good, Allie thought, chucking the first page of the letter aside. The second page was no more useful. It said her pencils, pens and paper would be supplied by the school. That her uniform would also be supplied. That she should write her initials using a waterproof pen or ‘stitch them’ on all of the clothing she chose to bring with her. That she should bring wellies and a raincoat because, ‘the school campus is large and rural’.
She scanned the rest of the letter looking for the usual ominous mention of ‘school rules’ and sure enough there it was, highlighted in bold:
The full rules for student behaviour will be supplied to you upon your arrival. Please read them and follow them closely. Violations of any school rule will be punished severely.
And just below that, more bad news:
Students are not allowed to leave the school grounds once they arrive without permission from either their parents or the headmistress. Permission will only very rarely be given.
Allie’s hands shook as she picked up the first page from the floor, folded the letter back into the envelope and set it on her desk.
What is this, a school or a prison?
Then she marched downstairs to where her mother was making lunch in the kitchen.
‘I’m calling Mark,’ she announced defiantly, as she picked up the kitchen phone, which magically reappeared whenever her parents were there.
‘Oh are you?’ Her mother set her knife down on the counter.
‘If I’m being sent to jail I have a right to one phone call, don’t I?’ Allie said in tones of righteous indignation. This had all gone too far.
Her mother studied her for a minute, then shrugged and picked the knife up and returned to thinly slicing a tomato.
‘Call him then.’
Allie had to think for a second before dialling. His number was programmed into her mobile so she rarely had to actually remember it.
The phone rang several times. ‘Yo.’ His voice was so reassuringly familiar and normal that for a second Allie thought she might cry.
‘Hey. It’s Allie.’
‘Allie! Bloody hell. Where have you been?’ He sounded as relieved as she felt.
‘In lockdown.’ She glared at her mother’s back. ‘They took my phone away, and my computer. They won’t let me leave the house. How are things with you?’
‘Oh, the usual.’ He laughed. ‘The parentals are pissed off, the school’s very pissed off, but it’ll blow over.’
‘Are they kicking you out?’
‘What? Of school? No. Are they kicking you out?’
‘Allegedly. My parents are sending me away to a prison camp they insist on calling a school. Somewhere in Outer Mongolia.’
‘Seriously?’ He sounded genuinely upset. ‘That sucks! Why are they being so lame? Nobody got hurt. Ross’ll get over it. I’m going to do some community service, apologise to everybody and then it’s back to normal school hell. I can’t believe your parents are being so medieval.’
‘Me neither. Listen, the Medieval Ones say I won’t be able to talk to you once I get to this prison school, but if you want to find me, it’s called Cimmer . . . ’
The line went dead. Allie looked up to see her mother holding the plug, which she had pulled from the wall. Her face was expressionless.
‘That’s enough of that,’ she said, and smoothly lifted the phone from Allie’s hand.
Her mother returned to slicing the tomato as Allie stood stock still, staring at her. Over the course of thirty seconds she felt her face first pale, then redden as she fought back tears. Finally she spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.
‘You. People. Are. Crazy!’ The words started low, but rose to a scream as she mounted the stairs. She slammed the door to her room, and once inside stood in the middle of it, staring around her, bewildered.
She no longer recognised this place as her home.
When Wednesday morning arrived hot and bright, she was surprised to find that she was actually relieved. At least this phase of her punishment was over with.
She stared at her open wardrobe for half an hour trying to decide what to wear. She finally opted for skinny black jeans and a long black vest with the word ‘Trouble’ scrawled across it in sparkly silver. She brushed her bright red hair and left it loose.
Studying herself in the mirror, she thought she looked pale. Scared.
I can do better than this.
Grabbing her liquid eyeliner, she applied a thick black swoosh to her eyelids and then coated her lashes in mascara. Next, she dived under the bed and pulled out a pair of dark red, knee-high Doc Marten boots, lacing them up over her jeans. When she walked downstairs a few minutes later she looked, she thought, like a rock star. Her expression was mutinous.
Her mother looked at her outfit and sighed dramatically but said nothing. Breakfast took place in icy silence, and afterwards her parents left her alone to finish packing. She piled her clothes up on the bed and then sat among them, her head resting on her bent knees, counting her breaths until she felt calm.
When they walked to the car that afternoon, Allie stopped and looked back at their ordinary terraced house, trying to memorise it. It wasn’t much, but it had always been home, with all of the emotional beauty that word implied.
Now it just looked like every other house on the street.