During Graham's first day at school he discovers his fellow pupils are a back-stabbing rabble and the teachers are drunken lechers. What's more, the school buildings are a gothic horror, and the head teacher is a psychotic murderer, who is about to strike again.
This is a day Graham is not going to forget in a hurry!
It starts as it finishes, with the cane.
A streak of malevolence runs down its three and half foot of indeterminate wood, ending in the hideous curve of the crook like a wolf's tooth. The main shaft has struck so many schoolboys over its twenty-year life that the end has split into a spaghetti of fibres, each point eager to splinter and dig into young skin. The dents in its body have gained a musty red colour, mottling the dust grey of the stick.
The cane lies peacefully on a desk, basking in the morning sunlight, which streams through a tree as dead as the cane, then through the window of the Headmaster's study. Motes swim gracefully in the still light; the warmth keeping them from settling on the body of the Headmaster slumped on the desk next to the cane.
There is no way of telling how long the body has lain there; it is as grey and mottled as the stick that lies beside. Dead hair stretches over the furrows of the brow, the sunken eyes, the thin, tasteless lips, and over the lip of the desk, hanging still above the cracked oaken floorboards.
There was a time when the Headmaster in his full regalia would skip down the corridors, merrily whistling, cane in hand, smacking the heads of boys like the railings in an iron fence. Those were glorious days, merry days when he was a more youthful man, who enjoyed nothing more than beating a student unconscious if their crimson and pigskin striped tie wasn't straight. He had an air of joyous violence, a vibrant unshaking hatred of kids and teachers alike that categorises the best of Headmasters, and filled him with purpose and life. All that has seeped from him, until now, his shattered form lies broken and slumped on the rotting Chippendale chair.
The gothic arched corners of the room, and the battlefield pictures scattered round the walls are glowing intermittently, a thick green which streams through the gaps in the floor, and occasionally there comes a mechanical wheeze from the machine in the basement to break the monotony of the humming boiler, but otherwise, the study is silent. Even the coal rat, jailed in a cage opposite the Headmaster's desk, scratching carefully at the fur growing round her neck is afraid to interrupt the still balance.
A spider edges slowly up the yellowing shirt of the Headmaster, trying to avoid the green sweat-stains seeping out from the armpits, and expels a strand of cobweb towards a cavernous ear, creeping out of the mass of grey hair. He has been eyeing this location for his new home for most of the night, watching for any signs of movement, and knowing it was only a matter of time before the flies arrive. From his earlier home, high in one of the alcoves facing the window, he had been bullied by the other spiders, and spat at by the family of leeches living in a cardboard box on top of the corner filing cabinet. He had been tempted by the coat stand, over in the far corner, where the Headmaster's mortar-board and gown hung, but a colony of ants had fought hard to keep their home, and the spider gave up.
So now, as he crawls into the still warm folds of its new home, he gets ready for a long, peaceful sleep, to recuperate from his day's labour. A knot in the wood of the cane seems to watch the arachnid, it's long tooth ready to bite. Unlike the Headmaster, the cane seems full of vitality and unable to slumber.
The thunder of a bell shakes the floor of the study. Its echoing peel sets the rat off, scurrying to her wheel to pedal frantically and escape the noise. The vast carcass of the Headmaster starts to slide of the back of the desk, and the spider tumbles out of his ear, then propels itself back to the darkened corners of the room. The dust motes start swirling like a cyclone, as the body invades their space.
Just as he is about to slip down to the floor, the noise of the bell penetrates the layers of wax in the Headmaster's ears, and he jerks awake. His sunken eyes spring open, and he uprights himself, pressing his creaking back into the wood of the chair. As the last echo of the last peel dies away, he slowly gets to his feet, unfurling himself in a great yawn, running his fingers through as much of his hair as it would allow. He looks down at the cane on his desk, then turns to look at the husk of a tree outside the window.
He chuckles slightly. He bends his knees to sit, and starts to giggle. Suddenly, he leaps up, and dances round the room, roaring with uncontrollable laughter.