8:59am. The buzz and low chatter of students hummed in the air, accompanied by books begrudgingly brought out of bags from below and dropped onto the tables above them. The teacher of the class glanced up to the clock for a moment, then back to the class. He spotted the only empty chair, next to a boy who looked a little too young to nearly be approaching the epoch of teenage years; his curly, scruffy hair and glasses gave him the illusion of youth. He caught the teacher’s glance and looked back, raising his voice above the commotion.
“Is Shaun going to get into trouble for being late again, Mr. Hernandez?”
The teacher smiled lightly. A deeper voice came from the far corner of the room from another student. “Man, Shaun’d be late to his own funeral, ya know?”
The class gave off a small laugh. Mr Hernandez eventually replied after it lightly simmered away. “It’s the first day, Josh. I’ll let him off. Just don’t tell him that. He’s got a good 30 seconds.”
Almost on cue, the door swung open. The young man who stumbled into the classroom looked fresh from the bed; he wore a plaid shirt, long sleeves rolled up unevenly. Creased jeans and a bag held on one shoulder, still half open. He hadn’t even combed his dark blonde hair, and ran a hand through it as if trying to neaten it before sitting down next to Josh.
Yanking his ear-buds out, he glanced around the room to see a few rolled eyes and the teacher raising his eyebrows. “First day. You were nearly late, 30 seconds left.”
Shaun just shrugged slightly with a bit of a smile. “Still not late though. 30 seconds early, Mr Hernandez.”
The rest of the class took some glee from Shaun’s retort, though he was hastily taking some books and leaflets from his bag and arranging them on his desk.
“We should begin then. You should have received your welcome pack in the mail over the summer holiday. You’ve already had time to decide on what you want to do so this is just to give you a last chance to pick what you want to do for the next two years. It’s a big decision, so you need to choose carefully. Who knows, it could even end up being the start of a career”
Josh raised his hand. Mr Hernandez looked in his direction. “Josh.”
“Aren’t we a bit too young to be making career choices? We’re like, not even twenty yet. You want us to pick something that’ll affect us for the rest of our lives.” His tone was defiant.
The teacher smiled a little, leaning back into his chair. “Life is a lot of choices we have to make that we don’t want to. It’s better to learn what it feels like sooner rather than later.”
Those words seem to have struck a chord in Shaun, who contemplated them for a few moments after. Mr Hernandez started to give brief descriptions of each class on their list, answering any questions thrown at him. Shaun caught the attention of the conversation as he heard a girl ask something.
“…the Farside Studies course is a science? Why does that even make sense?”
“It’s a good question.” The teacher dismissed the reactions she got; stifled giggles. “That’s what this lesson’s about. Farside studies is a lot about theory and experimenting. We still don’t know everything about it. We don’t know everything about physics either but we still study it. Does that answer your question, Elly?”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever.” Her response showed no enthusiasm. The class continued on.
“Shaun.” Josh gave him a light tap to the side. He barely noticed it, until his whisper grew louder and he turned his head. “Shaun!”
“…what?” He replied, leaning in. “Why are you whispering? You’re right next to me, dude.”
“You know those year 9s rumours I told you about, over facebook?” He had a knack for being a little too dramatic in his secrecy.
“Yeah?” Shaun’s curiosity had slightly piqued.
“Yeah, well, I checked on my news feeds and it might be true. There’s been a sighting in the area.”
Shaun’s curiosity had gotten the better of him. “No kidding? Live and all?”
“Yeah. If you can call them alive. Last spotted in the abandoned building sight. Where that fight happened and levelled the place.”
“Uh-huh.” He looked to the teacher, quickly pretending to look at the binder open on his desk. A few seconds of quiet passed, and he glanced to Josh. He let the conversation hang expectedly. “…so what? Are you waiting for me to ask you or something?”
“I mean, if you want to go and scope it out.”
“Why can’t you just ask me like a regular person instead of waiting for me to ask? Christ, man.”
“Hey, fuck off, alright? Do you want to go and see it or not?”
“Yeah. After school. It’s too far away on lunch break.”
“Yeah, okay. Cool.”
The bell rang at 11:02, much to the chagrin of several students who thought that you should leave class exactly on the hour. Mr Hernandez gave them the delightful news that there was no coursework until Tuesday. Monday was the induction day, where they’d meet their tutor and get the timetable for the rest of the week; the rest of Friday would be induction workshops. Tuesday, it would all begin.
Shaun waited before everyone else left, and waited by Mr Hernandez’s table to catch his attention. He’d wait until everyone else had left, then gave Shaun his attention.
“Shaun. What can I help you with?”
“Hey, Mr. Hernandez. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure. What’s on your mind?”
“I’m not sure.”
The teacher leaned back, as if it were a reflex of his. He only needed a second to figure out what he meant. “Not sure about the class you want to take? It’s a bit late to have second thoughts.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just… my dad, he’s trying to get me to be a mechanic and take engineering. I’m just not… interested. At all.”
Mr Hernandez tapped on the table once with his middle finger. “It’s not an easy situation. More common than you think. But, it’s what you want to do at the end of the day. What does interest you?”
Shaun needed a second to think. “Maybe like, Media Studies or something. I’d like to do sports.”
“I know. But it’s controversial if you did that. You know that already.”
“Yeah, I know.” There was slight acceptance in his voice, and hints of defeat. “I just don’t know where I want to go.”
“You don’t have to go into IT just because Josh is. I know you two are good friends and that’s probably why you took it. Just take the weekend to think about it. If you want to change your course on monday, see me before the end of today and I’ll see if I can get you in.”
“Thanks.” Shaun smiled, giving his head a slight nod. “I’ll catch you later.”
“Goodbye, Shaun.” He watched him leave, whilst tapping on the table with his middle finger. His glance lingered, before beginning to attend to a stack of papers on his desk.
Shaun and Josh caught up after school was over, meeting at the tree just outside of the school. Shaun had to avoid wading through a group of fresh starters, stopping to let them pass and rolling his eyes as he made his way over to Josh, who was looming in the refreshing shade with his back to the gnarled oak. They exchanged a quick handshake, with Shaun holding his hand out for Josh to initiate clapping it before they moved on.
They talked about the things that mattered most; Had Shaun seen that Legend film yet? He hadn’t but he did want to see The Martian. Josh definitely recommends it. Shaun says they’ll have to go sometime, if Josh can give them a lift. He’ll see. Josh really wanted to talk about the latest album he’s downloaded. The small talk to pass the time to the important moments of the conversation.
They checked the road was clear as they walked over a roundabout and dipped off to the side afterwards, down a cobbled road that lead to an area heavily in construction. It was evident that vans and other heavy vehicles had come and gone down this road to get to their destination, as dust and rocks made the large tire tracks easy to follow.
“We were going to go to the pub tonight. Did you wanna come along?” Josh nonchalantly asked.
“Yeah, can do.” Shaun ducked underneath a stray branch from one of the hedges lining the sides. “Not like I’m going to drink though.”
“Oh, yeah. Forgot about that. Sorry, dude.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it, man. Easy thing to forget.”
“Here it is.” Josh motioned ahead. The building site was still raw and only just off the planning stages. It had begun to be built but had shown signs of it being nearly abandoned already. Though it had stayed unmanned for some time, the majority of the tools on site remained where they where. Some discarded or even dropped, with keys still in the diggers and forklifts near the rear of the property.
“We’d better not get caught.” Shaun commented, as he took stock of his surroundings. A few bags of sand caught his eye as they made their way to the gated area, blocking off the houses that hadn’t been fully made yet from the world.
“We should be okay. It’s not the builders we need to worry about. They’re probably not here if it’s in here.” There was a confidence to his voice that was usually lacking.
“Point.” His response came just before they stopped. The fence was still open, left ajar. Shaun tugged it open and they both poured in carefully. Josh pointed to a house; barely constructed above the foundations that were laid, with the basis of a wall that had been abandoned obscuring the inside from view. “It’s in there?”
“That’s what they said.” Josh held back. Shaun showed no such restraint and began to made his way over. “Shaun, be careful, yeah?”
He stopped, turned his head, and reassured him with a smile. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll leave it in one piece.”
The boast had set Josh more at ease but not enough to bring him more forward, keeping his distance as Shaun investigated. He curved around the wall with one hand on it to keep his balance, dipping his head out of view. Several seconds passed, and he pulled his head out and stepped towards him.
“They weren’t lying. It’s a live Eldritch. Come and have a look.”
It took moments to coax the other lad over and he firmly stayed behind Shaun as he observed, hands on his shoulders. Shaun didn’t seem to mind being the meat shield to his inquisition, and they both gazed upon the beast laying in the ruins.
Whatever it was had an utterly alien aesthetic to it. It resembled a huge cat or dog with four limbs, though the entire body appeared to be a mass of tissue that appeared to be knots of tendrils or ropes of flesh, taking the form of an unearthly beast of legend. Where its head was, rested a bulb where the tendrils had apparently come to an end and wrapped around themselves into a sphere. Laying on its side, as if it was acting in a mockery of sleep. The only sign it was alive was the slight undulation of purple flesh, as if its body was gently trying to pull itself apart. Should it stand, its shoulders would easily reach an adult’s head.
They lowered to a hush.
“…do they sleep?”
“They must do. It’s sleeping, ain’t it?”
“I don’t know, man. What sort of question is that?”
“Like fuck I know. This is the first time I’ve seen one.”
“It’s a Bayard class, I think.”
“Or a Girallon.”
Shaun turned to Josh from behind. “You’d better hope it’s not a Girallon.”
Something had caused Shaun to look back. A spasm coarsed through the beast’s flesh. Tendrils had unwrapped themselves from its form and sunk back in, showing a different pattern of intertwined ligaments that settled down quickly. Josh had frozen in fear, pushing his fingers in as hard as he could muster into Shaun’s shoulders. In contrast, he wasn’t fazed by this nor its movements, and turned to Josh.
“That’s the signal to go.” His hand on Josh’s shoulder gave him solace, courage. He followed as Shaun led them away. “C’mon.”
The adventure to see such a creature face-to-face had come to an end. Shaun closed the gate behind them and glanced back, patting Josh on the shoulder again. He let him go first, as if covering his back gave him a measure of protection. They walked back up the path in a hasty manner.
“Fuck man. That was intense.” It took him until they left back to the main road that he managed to get some volume in his voice. Shaun nodded in response. “Thanks for being there, man. Shit, what do we even do?”
“We do nothing, mate. Pest control sort it out. Probably why the area’s been clear.”
“That fucking thing could hurt somebody. They should get the NFU on it.”
“The NFU should have already sorted it. Useless wankers.”
Josh rolled his eyes. “Shaun.”
“I’m just saying. The NFU is only good for two things. Making Number 10 look like they’ve got control over the Farborn, the Fartouched they can employ, and publicity stunts. They don’t do anything useful. When was the last time they did anything useful?”
“Christ, Shaun. Nobody fucking cares.”
“People care. We gave a shit about the personal expense scandal. We’d be better as a country if we tore parliament down and started again.”
“Wow. Okay, captain edge, I bet your internet blog loves your edgy teenage anarchy. You dickhead.”
“Hah. Piss off.” Shaun grabbed him by the other shoulder, which almost lifted him off the ground. “Arsehole.”
“You first.” They shared a laugh for the moment. Home was only a ten minute walk away. “Oh, yeah. Be at mine for 8 for the pub. Don’t be late like last time.”