Being a Public Servant is a Big Job. You are supposed to go out into the world, find what’s broken and fix it within a series of ever-changing rules set alternatively by people who are disinterested and overly concerned. Fred worked as a Bureaucrat at the “pleasure” of a Government Minister, and who his boss is changes from Election to Election (and lately with the wind!) So Fred never knew who he was “Pleasing” these days. He kept his head down and just got on with work. In his current role, he was a Safety Inspector for Public Housing and Private Housing Safety Enforcement.
He spent most days driving out to various places, doing a basic inspection of houses and schools and getting engineers involved if he thought they were needed. The County used Private Engineering firms rather than employing an Engineer full time, so there was never lack of Engineers, but some times the County “got what it paid for” with the Cheaper Services.
Fred strolled from his car, having finally arrived at Hrenville at the far eastern edge of his usual patch. It smelled of apples and wood-smoke when he walked to the school building, an older structure but built of heavy, post-war materials with none of the retrofits that added Air Conditioning or even a Heating Boiler to the building. It was heated with a series of wood-burning fires around the building, the roof was studded with small chimneys. It was a house of horrors for anyone seeking a more modern life, but it was a haven of “old time” life for the people of Hrenville who kept things like this as a kind of Tourist Trap, much to the chagrin of any new Teacher or Doctor who is unfortunate enough to find themselves assigned here.
Funny enough, they never have trouble getting new Priests into town if one passes on. Fred had been visiting the town for years, and knew who the movers and shakers were in town, but he was never greeted with anything more than indifference, not malice. The people of Hrenville went about their lives, keeping their picturesque corner of the county ready for visitors and hosting various festivals and celebrations and historical re-enactors and the like.
The Town was home to only 2 small Motels, with visitors driving into to town from the more Modern cities just down the road. It was in a vast field bound on all sides by forests and rivers, it was uphill from flood plains and downhill in terms of water flow for the aquifer so it has a great water system and never lacks for farmland around it, but not a single part of the massive flat field is tilled, with the town council insisting that it all be kept flat and green for visitors.
Fred walked around the School, looking for signs of damage, or structural issues. He liked to do this alone, without someone from inside to guide him to or from issues. He took out his flashlight and peered into the shadows around the school buildings structure, looking for reflections in standing water where it shouldn’t be, looking for shadows where there should be solid wood, that kind of thing. Satisfied that from a ground level, the building’s exterior looked okay, Fred dusted himself off, straightened himself and walked into the cool, concrete and wood interior of the Hrenville School.
The halls echoed with the hushed noises of a school in session, teachers and students talking everywhere in the large building. Somewhere in the building children sang a song, but Fred couldn’t pick up the tune or the words, only that children were singing. The Main office was to the left of the main entrance and a brass touchplate next to the door with words inscribed in it (long warn) was smooth and polished from 40+ years of students and teachers tapping it as they passed. Fred, a fan of tradition, tapped the plate as he passed and greeted Mrs. Belen, the school administrator and the power behind the office of the Principal Miss. Belen (he daughter).
Fred! It’s so nice to see you! She smiled and stood up from her desk to greet Fred. She wrapped him up in her arms and kissed him warmly on both cheeks. She had been Principal before and had a habit of treating every adult that came through the doors like lost children of her own.
Fred accepted the warmth and hugged Mrs. Belen back, returning her warmth with his own good nature. Mrs. Belen, I’m here for an inspection of the building, I’ll be wandering around the building looking at the structure and the chimney stacks. I’ll need a ladder to get up on top of the building at some point today and expect to be out of your hair before the school day is out. Will you be coming around with me today?
Mrs. Belen released Fred and walked around the office and swept with her arms to some posters on the wall opposite announcing “Saint Anthony’s Days” bearing a Date range starting today.
I’m sorry, Fred. We’re going to be busy today with the Children’s Saint Anthony’s Days activities. Mrs. Belen loved to come on the inspections, mostly because she had been the Principal for so long that she had a deep love for the building and all the kids that had passed through. But Saint Anthony was the town Patron Saint and around Hrenville was big on celebrating, every year they spent more and more time on the big Festival for their Patron Saint, so Fred wasn’t surprised that he would be working alone today.
Fred tapped the touch-plate as Mrs. Belen waved at his back, leaving the office. He wandered the halls, lighting the corners and the cracks, noting where there were some concerns in his notebooks. Classes let out and Fred stood to the side, waving friendly waves to teachers he recognized and enduring the stares and whispers of curious children. The Hrenvile School only served Kindergarten through Grade 6, the children were all uniformly small children to Fred and they blended into a somewhat dirty mass. As they swarmed out of the building into the air and the grassy fields outside.
With the Children out of the way Fred could make a pass of the classrooms looking for obvious issues and trying to find any issues with the fireplaces, thankfully centrally located off the Central Cross of the building. He lingered around the fireplaces, cold in the late spring. He could hear the same singing he heard earlier, the voices sounded bored and distracted now, there was a keening tone under it now that he hadn’t heard at all before.
He played his light along the ceilings as he finished a circuit of the whole cross, looking into each room, listening to the distant sounds of children playing and the singing never seeming to get louder or softer as he went around the building.
The Singing never changed in volume.
He walked the length of the cross two times and never found the singers got closer or further away, nor did the singing stop, it was a constant childish chant of some kind. He strode back into office and found a gaggle of giggling children in the corner of the room, they were pulling ribbons from a sack of some ki…
Mrs Belen was on her back in the corner, he face already slack but stuck with a look of horror and wonder all at once staring up at the ceiling as laughing children with arms streaked in gore pulled at her intestine and slurped from them like mad milkshakes.
Fred dashed right, shouldering the door to Miss Belen’s private office and slamming the door behind him. The Singing had reached new volumes and the keening had become a shrieking that he could feel in his head more than hear anymore, scratching at the inside of his head like a trapped thought with claws.
Miss Belen’s office was empty, she wasn’t in at all. The Children had apparently not even seen Fred dash into the office, consumed as they were with their meal. He could hear children outside, playing some games, he could hear snatches of what was being said now and what he thought was “childish screaming” might have been something much worse. He chanced a look out the window over the grass fields and under a wide banner announcing “Saint Anthony’s Day at Hrenville School” he saw groups of under-12s felling adults in the field and tearing into them, like candy filled Paper models.
The singing had become a somber, atonal drone all around him now, neither rising in volume or pitch. He could feel a hot presence in the school; his back was soaked with sweat from the fear and the blazing heat that had sprung up everywhere. In the distance he could see smoke coming from buildings around town, the chaos in the school field was not just here.
Hrenville was a candy store of gore now. Children skipped trailing lengths of intestine, slurping happily from them as they squeezed every drop from them into their waiting mouths. He watched a small boy, no more than 5 eagerly squeeze a liver and suck at it to drain it into him. He wiped his mouth with a bloody back of his hand and sped off to find a new meal.
Fred couldn’t see his car, he was at the side of the building, away from the entrance. There were kids everywhere and while they hadn’t seen him yet, he had no idea if he could get away without them pulling him down and eating him raw.
Fear pricked him as the wall next to him collapsed and fell away in a cloud of dust and huge arm slid around him and dragged him off his feet and swung him like a ragdoll as he was carried into the rafters of the building to a chapel, hidden between the chimneys, were a group of the older girls circled Miss Belen, who was in a trance of sorts. The large arms let him down and he found himself looking at a massive Man-Shaped thing that was at least 8 feet tall stooped amongst the roof and wood, staring down at him with an amiable look on its face.
Miss Belen looked up, directly into Fred’s eyes and said: ‘Fred. You’re Late this year!”
The Girls tittered to each other and shushed at a gesture from Miss Belen.
Fred, if you had come last week, like you normally would, you’d have missed the whole thing. Miss Belen stood and smoothed her simple back skirt. The Singing and the screaming had all stopped. There was a silence from outside that did nothing to break the tension in the circular chapel.
With a wave, the man-thing was brought to attention and it pinned Fred down between the girls, who looked down at him with undisguised hunger.
It was going to be “Me” as the final “Snack” for today, a final sacrifice for Hrenville to continue, but now, Fred. Fred held up a hand, as if to say “no need to explain”
However, in that hand was a pistol that he had been carrying for years, ever since a helpful mayor had once tried to shake him down.
Fred didn’t even hesitate, he shot the Man-Thing dead between the eyes and shot up, scattering hungry kids and pushing Miss Belen out of the way. He found the stairs the girls and teacher had used and ran at full speed from the school firing into the faces of the cutest kids he had every seen and diving into his car, slamming it into reverse and fully flattening some kindergartners with his car as he rolled over them and peeled out to the highway. He never looked back, or dropped the pistol.
Once he had driven far enough, he put the pistol down on the passenger seat, pulled over and checked over the car, looking for evidence of the kids bodies and finding only bloody marks, he wiped them with wipes from his car and drove as calmly as possible to the nearest police station in Rempton just 10 minutes away.
A torn “Saint Anthony’s Days” banner hung over the road as he came to town and he slowed down only to see a police officer being set upon by teenagers like a pride of lions.
Oh, he thought, Hrenville Teens go to school at Rempton middle school, don’t they.
He saw a bus on fire in the distance and thought better of stopping anywhere he might find a kid from Hrenville.