Good paint job. No cracks, bruises, scrapes, paint bubbles, visible brush strokes. Wait. There is one ripple in the paint. Moisture should accumulate in a room with no obvious ventilation. At last I have evidence people actually exhale in Room 17. I fixate on the bubble beneath the vinyl layer of Cadaver Grey paint. The bubble becomes an eye.
At first I think it’s a peephole allowing teachers to spy on Room 17’s miscreants. But the eye in the wall is round, bulbous, nocturnal. I blink. The wall blinks back. I look again and the eye is gone. A flicker of movement from the opposite wall of Room 17 catches my attention. Two more nocturnal eyes bubble out. They blink once, twice then fade to grey.
My white knuckles grip the edges of the grey plastic desk. I ignore the walls and concentrate on the perfectly square desk top. Minutes into this meditation my mind goes numb as anaesthetic death.
I shake my head to dislodge the sensation. The tingling becomes a burning. The twitching becomes an uncontrollable need to move. I leap from my chair. Everything from my shoulders to my neck to my hair spasms writhes and jerks in an effort to stop my deadening head. I am vaguely aware of Miss Pemberg shouting and Alistair Jordan laughing; then of Pemberg shouting at Jordan for laughing.
Eventually my head feels like my own again. I am dizzy, nauseous and nursing a minor spinal injury. Miss Pemberg gives me water and asks if I need to see Matron. I drink and croak out a breathless ‘No’. Then Jordan begins his own spasmodic dance.
I watch him gyrate wondering if I looked as pathetic. But I can’t laugh. It’s disturbing to see anyone’s body move so uncontrollably. Miss Pemberg grips Alistair Jordan in a wrestling hold and manoeuvres him deftly out of the room.
‘Stay here!’ she instructs me over Jordan’s shoulder.
I have no intention of leaving. Room 17 has a lot to answer for and I plan to make it talk. Alistair Jordan may be a tosser but no one deserves a dead head seizure dance. These eyeballs best learn who’s boss. I march up to the wall, choose a spot in the random greyness and smack my palms against it.
‘Attention all bulby eyeballs of Room 17!’ I rake my nails down the wall in case slapping didn’t do the trick. ‘You get out of that boy’s stupid head. He’s got nothing interesting in it anyway,’ I command. ‘Deal’, smack, ‘with’ smack, ‘ME!’
My hands hit the wall one last time. I can’t pull them back. I tug harder. Stuck. A thin layer of grey ripples from the wall and creeps across my flesh. A normal person would probably panic at the prospect of being swallowed by a wall but I am fascinated. The greyness slithering up my arms feels fuzzy, like patchy, uneven peach skin.
Panic starts when the grey fuzz reaches my shoulders. I knew Room 17 would be the death of me. Now I’m about to be suffocated by a wall and there’s nothing I can do about it. The dead-head tingling sensation reverberates through my entire body with prickling, burning, unstoppable irritation. I close my eyes as the grey fuzz consumes me.
‘Greetings, Time Lord,’ says the wall.
I inhale tentatively. Breathable. I peel my eyes open. I am face to eyeballs with The Lemur Beast of Room 17. Its bulbous orbs nudge my forehead. What big eyes you have, Room 17. Beneath them a wide, flat nose bumps against my chin in a rhythmic pattern I recognise as breathing. What a big nose you have, Room 17. A generous, lipless mouth splits around pointy grey teeth. They look sharp but have a slight fluffy quality. Indeed, the entire creature wears a thin, patchy fur coat. What big teeth you have, Room 17. I really hope Room 17 doesn’t know the rest of this dialogue.
‘You are not who I expected. You are a child. Where is Time Lord Annah?’
‘I am Juliet Annah. Who are you?’
‘I am The Mould, Time Child Annah.’
If Mould thought this was going to be enough, Mould was gravely mistaken. I have no idea what a Time Child is or why it thinks I am one. I decide it doesn’t matter. I decide to rely on bravado.
‘Speak up when you address a Time Child!’ I thrust balled fists against indignant hips in a universal gesture predicating a “right good bollocking.”
‘I am The Mould of Polemis Five. Lord Annah brought me to his Time Station. He said he would arrange a destination for me but I have waited so long and he has not come.’
Lord Annah’s Station? Had Room 17 been Granddad’s classroom once upon a time? Of course it had. I roll my eyes internally maintaining a fierce facade for The Mould. Time Station? The Mould made Room 17 sound like a bus stop.
‘What does The Mould want from Lord Annah’s Station?’
‘A new life.’
‘And what happened to your old one?’ I demand as if chiding Mould for losing its mittens.
‘I lived with the warlords of Polemis 5. They never knew I existed. Polemi Warriors do not tolerate life outside their own. I hid. I consumed their waste: machine oil, soot, dust, unwanted chemicals—the run-off of Polemis’ brutal world. But the warriors were slaughtered and Polemis destroyed.’
‘Right. Well. Sorry.’ Bollocks. I am losing authority points here but I understood only about half all that. ‘Do you know how Grand— Time Lord Annah intended to help?’
A symbiotic creature that survives on filth. I imagine the feast pubescent students could offer Mould: sweat, oily skin, unwashed uniforms, eraser flakes. Perhaps I could find it a nice home in the Boy’s PE Changing Room.
‘I have what I need already, Time Child. The Mould thanks you.’
‘Oh, good. Glad I could help then.’ First job sorted and I don’t even know what a Time Lord does. Fantastic!
‘The raw power I have consumed from you will regurgitate Polemis’ warrior race through the vortex of Lord Annah’s Station. Polemi warriors will crush humanity to create a new Polemis on Earth. I will have a home and a purpose again.’
Err… Oh, dear. Well, that’s not what I meant to do at all.