The Perils and Dangers of this Night

The Perils and Dangers of this Night by Stephen Gregory

Book: The Perils and Dangers of this Night by Stephen Gregory Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Gregory
slowly down.
I hesitated in mid-phrase, so that Dr Kemp stopped
playing. At the same time, Wagner struggled to his feet
and started barking in the vague direction of the thump,
although he had no idea what had caused it or what it
meant. His voice was hoarse and booming, after the
precision and clarity of the carol.
    'Thank you, Wagner, that will do . . .' the headmaster
cried out above the noise, so that the dog slumped down
again, still wondering where the thud had come from.
'Now, Scott, try to concentrate. Where were we? Earth stood hard as iron . . .'
    I took a breath and continued to sing. There was
another thump, harder than the first, and this time
Pryce's face appeared in the blur where the snowball had
struck the window. Wagner was on his feet again,
bellowing, big and brave and ready for battle. Dr Kemp
sighed heavily, and in a little space between the barks he
mouthed at the young man outside, 'Yes, Pryce, that will
do, thank you very much,' in more or less the same weary
way he'd addressed the dog.
    The difference was that the young man didn't
respond with the automatic deference that Wagner had
shown. He affected misunderstanding, frowning and
cupping his hand to his ear as he'd done in the stable-yard.
    'Go,' the headmaster intoned loudly. 'Go elsewhere,
please.'
    The face disappeared, although a hand made a final
swipe at the snow on the window so that a long smear
remained. Wagner collapsed onto the floor with a terrible
groan, breathing hard.
    'Yes, old boy,' Mrs Kemp said to him, 'it is a pity for
you to be indoors on a day like this, isn't it? Perhaps
you'll be able to go out soon?' The question mark in her
voice hung in mid-air, like a chime.
    Dr Kemp relented. 'Well then. The last verse, one more time,
    and that'll do for this morning. Snow had fallen, snow on snow . . .'
     
    I burst out of the front door. Wagner forced past me so
violently, mad to get out, that he almost knocked me
headlong. Boy and dog, together we flung ourselves onto
the lawn and ran and ran, for the joy of the sparkling
whiteness of the snow, the snapping cold of the air and
the perfect blue heavens above.
    I shouted and whooped, the dog bellowed from the
depths of his barrel chest – until we both stopped and
listened, oddly abashed by the deadened echo of our
voices.
    A flock of crows rose from the trees and whirled like
cinders, black and smutty and strangely silent. As old and
as wise as the woods, they did not cry out. They only
folded and unfolded, alerted by the cries but not alarmed.
Indeed, even before we reached the middle of the lawn,
beneath the bare boughs of the copper beech, the crows
had returned to their roost, shuffling their wings, watching
and waiting.
    'Hey, Scott!'
    A snowball thudded on the back of my head, an
explosion of ice on my red hair. And there was Pryce,
already armed with another snowball and ready to
launch it: a big grinning boy a few years older than me,
hurling the snow and then bending for more. I bent to the
ground, scooped a handful of snow so crisp and crunchy
and easy to compact that, in one single movement, I'd
packed a missile and thrown it. It smacked on the side of
the young man's head. Nothing could be better, more
perfect, than to be boys in snow on a sparkling morning
– so we joined in battle, we shouted and dodged and
scooped and ran and hurled, until at last we closed in
hand-to-hand combat, smothering handfuls of snow into
each other's faces and necks and laughing and spluttering.
    We rolled apart. For a second, gasping for breath, as I
blinked at the infinite sky through kaleidoscopic eyelashes,
I was suffused with love – yes, it felt like love, the
warmth of companionship with this miraculous man
who'd arrived at Foxwood in a snarling, filthy red chariot
with a stam-mering elf as his companion, who'd spoken
such rare, forbidden words, and who later, in the
fluttering candlelight, had performed an act of such
startling bestiality that I'd surely never forget it –

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