To get away once emboldens the mind.
Yes, it does. Significantly so.
Have faith, they say. Have faith. In God. In others. In the System. In… yourself.
They surround you now. Their faces are taut. You can sense, behind those eyes, behind the starched white shirts and glittering school badges, fear. They are afraid. After all, this is uncertainty. They have the right to fear.
“Tell us,” Andrews says again. “Just tell us.”
“I did,” you say. “I told you everything.”
“Liar,” mutters Connerly, ridiculous beneath his colossal rucksack.
“Liar. Liar!” echo the rest.
Yes, you think. But have faith. Go on. Have a little faith, boys. Faith is all it takes.
“I can’t tell you more than I know, can I?” Tentatively you shift your arm, trying to determine whether your wrist really has been broken. Feels bad enough, that’s for sure.
“Where’s your faith?” you ask. Holding back the grin takes a staggering effort — but you do it.
“Faith?” spits Mitchell. “You expect us to take your word on good faith?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” you goad. Openly. Recklessly.
And they see it. They see the audacity. They know. They’ve known for ages. All of them.
Forcing a pained smile, you shuffle up against the wall, allowing a wince to flower across your face.
“He’s hurt,” someone whispers, before one of the larger boys glares the speaker quiet.
“Come on,” you whine. “What do you want from me?”
Andrews starts towards you, face livid. “You little—”
That bark! Salvation!
The circle breaks. The boys scarper. In seconds it’s just you. And Andrews, who stands shame-faced, head ducked.
Barker stalks slow across the yard. His gown swings limply, his hands wait behind his back.
“Sir, we were just talking—”
“Certainly,” growls Barker. “And it’s an interesting vantage you’ve taken — from which to ‘talk’. Leaning over a prone victim. Interrogation was it?” He snaps a finger at you. “Up. Get up, boy. Hurt?”
“My wrist, sir.” You scramble up. “It’s not too bad, sir,” you say earnestly. “Just, when they pushed me, I think it hit the wall. Might have cracked, sir.”
“Off to the nurse then, boy. Go on.”
Flustered, you scrabble for your bag, trip authentically on an untied bootlace, hurry off.
Andrews’ eyes haunt your back.
They leave you alone again. Well, physically they do. Not worth the risk, you hear them saying. Not worth the risk of a caning. Or expulsion — which wouldn’t happen, but they don’t know that. Their faith, you see, is shaken.
Maybe it’s worse than that; maybe their faith is shattered. For, knowing what they know, it seems impossible. It’s near inconceivable. The things you’ve got away with. They’ve lost whatever faith they held, for the staff, for the system… You’ve broken it. A single month is all it’s taken.
“Tell us,” they’d begged you. “Just tell us!”
But you wouldn’t, for telling would be giving the game away. It would be easy. Ease is not what you’re after. Ease comes too naturally.
And so they tortured themselves, wondering. The tales grew, suspicions fermenting away in cramped tanks, which could only ever rupture under the pressure of excessive dioxide. Tempers flared. The bullying started. You hungered down and took it. You waited for the inevitable staff-led rescue.
Now, they’ve stopped asking. As you knew they would.
And so you tell them. Gradually. One by one.
Only ever to individuals; never when there are witnesses. You tell them.
“In the woods,” you hint to little Connerly.
“Over on the far side of Martha’s Meadow,” hears Mitchell.
“Under the bridge, where the current tugs,” you hiss at Andrews. “That’s where it happened. That’s where you’ll find it.”
Ahh, faith works wonders! For, you see, they all have such faith in you. They fully believe. Their faith is unshakeable!
To yourself, you laugh. It is, frankly, hilarious. They’ve gone full circle.
“Take a spade,” you say. “Take a spade and dig up the Rose Garden. It’s not even that far down.”
When a couple try it, and are caught and caned, and the toppled rose trees lie all day in muddy rain, you know you’ve won.
And, of course, all along, you never did it.
Little Freddie Burns disappeared all on his lonesome. He didn’t need your help. Where he is or what he’s doing, it matters not to you.
You never slit his throat. You never whacked him with a cricket bat, or poisoned his food with weed-killer. You never even spoke to him.
Faith, you’ve discovered, goes an awfully long way. The boys have the utmost faith in you: faith in your monstrosity, faith in the lengths you’d go to carry out the horrors of your projected persona.
And you have faith in yourself, of course. That’s part of the deal. Have a little faith, you tell yourself. You never did anything.