School: the Seventh Silence
an extract from the novel
by Craig Herbertson
Jean Deforte has found a caterpillar. But lost his little sister.
It's a difficult year. Father is dying and mother has sent him to an English school. Nobody likes Jean because he is half French. The girls are laughing. The teachers are on his back. The bullies are waiting in the hallways. Unluckily for Jean there are worse things than bullies: there are vacant black holes in the corners of his mind. There are darker things that would gladly fill them.
Jean is about to discover that his school is more foreign than he could possibly imagine.
Behind the stockroom door there are other classrooms. Classrooms where paper planes carry passengers, statues cry, board games cost your life, books ask you questions. There are endless dusty corridors, back ways, cellars and chimney flues, hidden rooms, and garrets and just occasionally you might find a pupil running for his life. Better join him.
Jean knows his little sister is here. But is she hiding or helping? Is she alive or dead? In point of fact is Jean alive or dead? It's a question that the enigmatic Moonster might answer. But he is trying to get out, not in.
Jean's quest to find her becomes a personal journey. A Journey to the door of the Seventh Silence.
A rite of passage, a symbolic journey through Hades, the struggle between good and evil, the adventure of appearance and reality? There is something here of Dante, Peake, Carroll. Add a little Kafka, Philip K Dick and Conrad and you will have guessed that this is not a book for children - unless like Jean they are very brave.
Mike Glyer, multiple Hugo-winning fan writer and Worldcon chair: "Brilliant."
Mike Don of Dreamberry Wine: "A cracker."
To Jean's surprise, Moonster took off all his clothes and grabbed hold of one of the ceiling ropes. With a wild whoop, he flung himself outwards from the building. For a second, Jean thought Moonster had gone mad and was attempting suicide. Moonster swung out in the rain, his thin, muscular body lit as if with innumerable magnesium sparkles as the water droplets dashed off it. He caught another rope that Jean now saw suspended from a gantry above the garret. Now with each swing, Moonster waltzed further into the abyss and then spun back into the room; and then, like the pendulum of some unbelievable clock, he swung back and forward, to and fro, in wild, ululating joy. He seemed at once both a human boy and a sparkling, amazing water creature, suspended in the biggest open-air bath in the universe.
For a few seconds, Jean could only glare at this sight, his throat dry with fear and his belly gnawing with expectation. Then, overcome with a sheer and fierce joy, he threw off his own clothes, grabbed a rope, and impelled himself out into the dizzying space. In an instant, he felt the weight of a million raindrops bouncing off his body. There was an empty shock as he spun back into the garret, and then the infinite joy of repeating it over and over again: sliding into the rain like a ghost with Moonster. It was as if they were flicking backward and forward in time. It seemed as if they maintained this hypnotic rhythm for hours. Sometimes, they would swing in tandem as though they were riding parallel rocking horses on a roundabout, sometimes they were like two halves of a weather clock, telling fair weather or foul, and then again they spun like reckless dancers around a maypole, entwining in each other's rope. Sometimes, they would cling together, spinning around and around like twin gymnasts.
Jean could not see the abyss below because of the violent rain. But there was one occasion when a sudden bolt of lightning struck a lightning rod somewhere to the west. In that instant, the whole immense arena woke up. It was as though an immense camera flashlight had suddenly revealed an ancient roman amphitheatre. But Jean felt no fear. Even when his hand slipped on the wet rope and he slid one-handed to the knot, he remained unafraid. The abyss was there, he sensed it, but the burgeoning air seemed somehow even safer than the lighted garret.
Eventually, of their own momentum, the ropes came to a standstill outside the room, and there was only the sound of the driven air. Jean and Moonster hung motionless for a while. Then Moonster dropped to the floor of the room and Jean followed him. They both laughed until their bellies ached, staring at their naked and drenched bodies until they could not even stand up. They had to lie down for a while, until Moonster managed to conquer the laughter and the exhaustion. Finally, he got to his feet. Somehow, he produced two Persian towels and then made some tea.
They climbed into the hammocks, and lay there for a long time, swinging idly like two sailors in a becalmed ship. They sipped tea and ate biscuits in the quiet of the storm.
After a while, Moonster broke the silence. 'You asked about the corridor,' he said.
'The cold,' Jean replied.
'Yes. That is the same monster that the Head allowed into English.'
'But what kind of monster is it?' asked Jean.
© Craig Herbertson 2006, 2007.
School: the Seventh Silence is published by Immanion Press.
Now available at Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK)