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 Writing from Matthew, 15, South Glos., UK

Bonsai Dreams

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

My life has always been mediocrity;
One of “could do better” commentary.
People talk of exponential potential,
Of influential missed credentials,
And glare in my direction as they do.

Try to pressurise; terrorise; mesmerise
In attempts to summarise
Just what I’m missing;
Casually dismissing;
From my life.

Try to instil dreams of fame;
To create the spark from which the flame
Of relentless enthusiasm –
That strange and unwanted neoplasm –
Is born.

They say that I have too low expectations;
Limited estimations
Of my inherent capabilities
And the possibilities of these abilities.

But is it so much worse to dream of nothing
And end up with something
Than to spend time dreaming about everything
And end up penniless without anything?

And are my eternal bonsai dreams
Really worse than your oaken fantasies:
Ready to be chopped down, chopped up,
And cut into timber?
(May 2005)

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The Something That Grew

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

Where did my childhood go?

I ask myself that as I sit
At the table in my kitchen
Realising dully that I am an adult.

Not legally – not yet, anyway –
But mentally, emotionally,
Adulthood is here, and to stay.

I have, I realise, a political opinion.
I have an education (or will have,
In just six months’ time.)
I’m getting less physical and more cerebral.
Less wildly emotional; more enclosed, guarded
Against whatever adult life may bring.

And I wonder why, and whether
It wasn’t better as a child.
Where everything was open; free:
You could run around wildly
And no one would point or laugh:
Just smile knowingly: say “Kids”.

Where there were no cliques or groups
Or complex teenage etiquette.
And when you didn’t try to act
Tough when such-and-such a girl you liked
Was looking over at you.

And try as I might,
I cannot bring back my childhood.
And I begin to wonder whether
That childhood I had didn’t go altogether:
Shrink and shrink to make room
For the adulthood that grew to replace it.

Or whether childhood just mutated
Kind of like a cancerous cell.
Turning into something unrecognisable
When compared with what it once was.
Mutating childhood into adulthood.
This mutation like cancer:
All bad: for what do adults do?
There are a few good things, admittedly,
But they are by far outweighed by the bad.
For what eight-year-old ever started a war?
Took poppies and turned them to heroin?
Built a gun or a bomb; concocted Greek fire?
Discriminated due to skin or wealth or sex?
Turned coca leaves into cocaine
Then sold it to anyone who would take it?
And I mourn for my childhood
As I grow so hollow inside
So shallow inside:
Hollow shallow shell of person once real.
My childhood – my innocence – eaten away, bit by bit,
To be replaced by the something that grew
Inside of me:
That hardened tumour we call adulthood
February 2005

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By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

In this grey, urbane winter
We still believe the weathermen
With their promises of snow
When all we ever get is rain.
And why do we believe?

In cold, uninviting surgeries
We still believe the doctors
When they say that it won’t hurt
Even though, and we know, it always does.
And why do we believe?

In bright, filled-to-the-brim chapels,
We still believe spouses-to-be
When they promise to always be faithful
Even though they often aren’t.
And why do we believe?

In this dark, nuclear winter
We still believe the politicians
With their promises of peace
When all we ever get is war.
And why do we continue to believe them?

And, more importantly, should we?
February 2005

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Summing Up

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

A mugger; a liar;
A thief; a cheat;
He burnt, beat,
Murdered, disfigured:
Dumped the bodies in rivers.

Twenty-three, divorced.
No kids.
No social life to speak of either.
No friends; no family close.
No current love life.

Unemployed. No education.
Ineligible for even unskilled labour
Due to a criminal record
As long as your arm.
Penniless, living on a council estate.

Surviving on stolen food
And stolen money.
Every effort towards sustaining
Just makes his record longer.
Swimming against the tide.

And despite all that:
All these flaws and blemishes:
I urge you; plead with you
To look at this man and think to yourself:


And, if I’ve given this speech correctly…
You will.
February 2005

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Fire Plays With You Too (see Playing With Fire)

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

It’s gotten worse over the last few weeks. They’ve gotten worse. They being the arsonists. The fire-bombers. The Crusaders for Freedom, or whatever crackpot name they’ve given themselves this week. One day, the air in this sleepy little town was clear and breathable: carried no pollutants or toxins that attack your blood and kill your brain. Now look at it. I mean, it’s hard to step outside nowadays without seeing blazing buildings, or at least ominous pillars of smoke on the horizons. The air is warm tonight, but I can’t remember a day when I stepped outside and the air was cool. Here in the north, we used to be glad for a bit of warmth every now and then; today, we hate the heat, as we know it is a harbinger of death and destruction. It means that something is burning.

I’m not even sure what these people want. Freedom from some sort of discrimination, although trying to think of what kind they’re experiencing really does bewilder me. We’ve always tried to be an accepting town: whether you’re black or white or Asian; whether you vote Labour or Conservative, or even Lib. Dem. Whether they’re loud or quiet, tall or small, dim or bright, right or wrong, everyone gets accepted up here. We’re pretty good people like that, or so I have experienced.

Sometimes, I think that they’re not being victimised at all: that fire is just a plaything for them, and racism or sexism or whatever is just the front. But what fun could people possibly find in fire? It burns. It’s not all that spectacular.

The torched buildings are getting closer. Yesterday, one went up only three streets away. A terraced house like mine. Ours, I remind myself. My wife and kids are still with me, though they’ve been dead six years or so. They’re with me in spirit. Anyway, the house burnt to the ground. I sat in the attic bedroom, and watched out of the window in a sort of wondrous disgust as the police officers bagged up the charred bodies. Only one woman got out, and she was more dead than alive; her entire family had stripped off her in an hour or so. If they — the Crusaders for Freedom – if they come anywhere near my house — our house — they’ll get what’s coming to them. Discrimination — hah! I’ll give them something to complain about.

Did I mention that my wife burnt to death? And my three children? I didn’t? I generally don’t, you see. But…I feel like I can trust you. You look like a nice type. Married? Of course you are, and kids too, I’ll bet. You look like a good parent. I was a good parent. Up until the end, of course. I wasn’t thinking straight. Caught in the eye of the emergency. Caught up in the primal urge for self-preservation. Save yourself. Forget the others. I wasn’t thinking straight. That was why I left my wife and kids to die.

They never found out what caused the fire in the small hours of the morning. My wife was a very cautious woman. She always turned off electrical appliances at night. No candles were burnt. No gas was left on. No matches were left out for small hands to take; investigate; perhaps strike if the fancy took them. The house was safe, and yet it burnt. You can see why I’m a little cautious of — maybe a little angry with — these Freedom Crusaders. Fire brings back memories that were long ago burned into my mind.

The fires are getting closer. Three erupted yesterday evening: two of them two streets away, and the other was one street away. They’re working outwards, from the centre of the city. They spread cancer with their smoke and their soot and their tar and their carbon monoxide, and they in turn have become a cancer. Feeding away at the city, chunk by chunk, eating the city from the inside. A normal exterior hides a core completely hollow with the evil that devoured it. My laughs are hollow now: consumed by the deaths on my mind. I feel like a shell. I’m all smiles, but considering cyanide: I want to go quickly, easily. Not slowly and painfully, by the flames.

I burnt a ball of paper today, aside promises to myself that I wouldn’t. I couldn’t go back to the fire. Put the paper ball in a saucer, doused it in a lighter fluid, struck a match and applied it. Watched the flames feast, as they do in my mind. My mind, all hollow inside.

The fires creep closer, now on my street and closing. Eight doors down was burnt to the ground last night, leaving nothing but the brickwork and ash. A shell of its former self.

They shall not have my house, no matter how hard they try. I have high aspirations. Yesterday a ball of paper. Today the house. I prepare rooms for the final curtain: splash them in paraffin; carry a lighter. Take only what I can fit in my pockets. I stand in the living room, and play with fire. Lighting matches, then extinguishing them with a moistened finger. The box becomes half empty, and still my hunger – pyromania, they call it these days – is not yet sated. I burn more: set them slowly alight, one by one, until my finger suddenly slip. The match drops, spins as it does: end over end over end over end. It hits the floor, still lit, and ignites.

I am trapped in a room I cannot escape as fire leaps around my feet and scorches my ankles. Please-god-just-let-me-get-out-of-here-please! But I realise that this is what they call punishment. My crime was pyromania: the penalty is death.

My confessions might as well be now. There’s no better time. I did not come to this pyromania: I returned to it. I first started…six years ago. The mystery fire? Me, playing with matches. My reasons? I don’t have any. Well, not any that others would understand. If pyromania can be classed as a reason, then that’s one of my reasons. If stupidity can be classed as a reason, well that’s another. But apart from that, there was no reason.

Escape is impossible. Resistance is futile, as someone once said. I’ve got to accept it. Maybe I’ll burn easier hollow. Dead inside of my mind: chewed away by regret and anger.

You can try playing with fire. But, in the end, fire plays with you too.

(January 2005)

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By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

How hard can writing be?
It’s just riding a thought:
And once you’ve done it
You never forget,
How to swoop and to soar,
How to leap and to dive,
How to look and to find
In the depths of your mind.

How to surge on the brink
Of your brain’s creation,
On the surf of your psyche,
On the edge of your mind,
Not yet knowing or caring
Where this will go:
Just scribbling each thought down,
Each verb and each noun.

For it should be joy, not burden,
Like a religion of the mind,
And not of the soul.
A way of keeping yourself sane
In this income-crazed world
Of the here and the now.
A way of giving yourself some form of retreat;
A way to making the ends of your life meet.
(January 2005)

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Crime of Passion (Part I)

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

(Take note - this is not a whole story but only part of it. I am still working on the rest, but I felt this would be enough for most of you for the time being.)

Beth Harding stood in the school corridor, and looked at the figure standing opposite her. He was cute, she thought — small dark eyes staring out at her from underneath a dishevelled mop of hair. He was a mess — hopelessly untidy — but somehow he managed to turn this on its head and make it attractive. If she had been a little more intelligent, she would have realised how apt his name was — Heath Rushton, Heath being short for Heathcliff.

“So?” he said, smiling — and what a smile! For one of the first times in her life, Beth Harding had nothing to say. She considered what she would like to say, and then what she really should say. She couldn’t let Raymond down, but she didn’t want to miss out on a chance like this.

“No,” she finally said, sighing.

“No?” he said, looking as if this was the most unbelievable thing he had ever heard. “No? Why not?”

“Because…I’m going with Raymond.”

“Raymond Periles?”

“That’s right.”

“…Why are you going with him?”

She paused here for a second, considering what to say. That –she had pitied him, and had wanted him to feel bad? For that was truly why she had done it. And he had mustered up the courage to ask her quite early — several weeks, in fact, before this encounter with Heath. But… She looked at Heath again, and then looked away just as quickly. She wasn’t going to let Raymond down like this.

“Because…he asked me, and I didn’t really know what to say, so I ended up saying yes.”

“How hard would it have been to say no?”

“You try being in my position!” she said sharply, and Heath backed up slightly in mock fear.

“So…are you going to tell him you’re going with me?”

“I haven’t even told you that I’m going with you yet. You should stop being so sure of yourself!”

“Confidence, Beth,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

“Aren’t you already going out with Anna?”

“That can be changed.”

“No!” she said. “You can’t. Really. I’m not going to go with you. That is it. I’m going with Raymond.”

“Well…how about after the leavers’ ball?”


“Will you go out with me once the leavers’ ball is over and done with?”


“Why not?”

“Because you’re going out with my friend!”

“I’ve told you…that can be changed.”

He leaned forward, and his lips brushed ever so gently against her face.

“How about now?” he said.

“I’ll…I’ll think about it.”

“Good. I’ll tell Anna later.”

They both turned around, to see Anna Corinth standing behind them.

“Anna,” Beth said, trying to save what was clearly a doomed situation. “It’s not how it looks…”

Anna stared at her for a moment, tears welling up in the corners of her small eyes, and then rushed off down the corridor.

Roxanne Buttercost watched Raymond Periles across the table. He wasn’t looking at her, of course — if he had been, it was very unlikely that she would have been looking back. He was, in fact, looking at Beth Harding, who was a few tables away. In fact, staring was a more fitting word, or perhaps gawping. His expression was trance-like — Roxanne doubted that the Buddha himself could have reached such a level of disinterest to the majority of the world around him. She looked at Beth, and scowled. That wonderful hair, that perfect skin — it almost sickened her.

“Roxanne?” a voice to her side said, and she snapped back to the real world.

“Yes?” she said.

“Who was the Greek god of the Underworld?”


She and Raymond spoke the word at exactly the same time — if there was one thing he enjoyed more than watching Beth Harding, it was displaying his high levels of intellect.

“And his wife was?”


Again, the word was spoken in perfect simultaneity.

“And what river was the boundary of the Greek underworld?”

“The Styx.”

Again, simultaneous.

“Which separated into five tributaries,” Raymond went on alone. “The Acheron, the Cocytus, the Aornis, the Phlegethon and the Lethe.”

“Whose waters, when drunk, induce loss of memory.”

Raymond nodded.

“And the Styx, of course, had a ferryman, by name of…?”


“And how does he link in to Hades’ Roman name?” Raymond said, smiling.

“Because Hades, in the Roman myths, was known as Pluto, and Charon is the moon of Pluto.”

“Very impressive.”

At the end of the lesson, Roxanne approached Raymond tentatively.


“Hello,” he said.

“Look…I know it’s a bit of a long shot but…would you like to go to the leavers’ ball with me?”

There was a short pause.

“No. Sorry. I would love to…but I’m already going with someone else.”


“Beth Harding,” he said.

“Well…” Roxanne’s friend, who had inquired about the gods — her name was Caroline Orwick — said. “I heard — and this might just be a rumour — but I heard that Beth has been seen flirting a lot with Heath, from the other side of the year.”

“Really?” Raymond said.

“Yes. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. Heath broke up with Anna and everything. Poor little Anna — she was heartbroken. She’s such a fragile little thing. And Anna’s friend Jenny has sworn revenge on both Beth and Heath — but you know what Jenny’s like. All heat and no flame.”

“Beth…and that Heath?”

“Yes. Look, I’m sorry…”

“Well, you don’t have to be sorry. Because it’s not true, do you hear? Beth is going to the leavers’ ball with me, and I know it!”

He stormed off quickly, and Caroline looked sideways at Roxanne as they left the classroom too — the small history teacher was already shooing them out.

“You OK?” she said. “I never knew that you liked Raymond!”

“Well, I do,” she said. “But it’s no big deal. I’ll find someone else.”

“You look devastated. You sure you’re fine?”

“I’m sure,” she said.

They walked for a minute or so, and then Caroline said,

“That Beth really is a bit irritating, isn’t she?”

“She is.”

“You don’t half get the feeling that, if someone were to
get rid of her, it’d be doing the whole school a favour…”

James Redbury sat in his office, sifting through the day’s letters. A few years ago — like when he was risking life and limb to hunt down albinos and mad Japanese assassins — he had been looking for publicity, and the money that came with it. Now that he had it, he constantly wished it away. Every day, a little short of a thousand letters arrived on his desk. He grinned sardonically as he read some of the addresses. Prague, Czech Republic. Melbourne, Australia. Seoul, South Korea. Cheyenne, Wyoming, United States of America. He wondered whether these people would be so keen for him to come if they realised that they would be paying the travelling and accommodation fees. In his own tiny country, of course, he paid all travelling and accommodation fees — because it took so little time to get around, and accommodation was hardly ever expensive. He checked the number of messages on his phone. One hundred and twelve. He pressed a button, and moments later his secretary opened the door and came in.

“Mr Redbury.”

“Irene. Have you checked through the phone messages yet today?”

“I have.”

“Any in the area?”

“A few.”

“Have you taken note of the corresponding ones?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Could I take a look at them?”

“Of course, sir.”

The door closed, and then seconds later, opened again. She walked in, and handed a sheet of paper to him, handwritten. This, however, wasn’t a problem — it was a secretary’s hand, and therefore almost as easy to read as a computer printout.

“A school in Oxfordshire?”

“That’s…what they said, sir.”

“Who’s been murdered?”

“One of the students, sir.”

“Did you speak to the headmaster?”

“I did — I thought you might want to take a closer look at this case.”


“He seemed fine. A little full of himself at times, but generally a likeable person. He asks if you could please come down and take a look at the crime scene.”

“What about solving the murder?”

“Well, he says that if you’re too busy, you don’t have to do any formal investigating — just give the police your expert opinion on the murder.”

“I never do any formal investigation anyway. I never have the permission of the police or anything like it. After my record of solved cases, the police now just let me get on with it without question.”

“Seems fair. So…are you going to go down there?”


“And should I send off some standard rejection letters to the stack of queries on your desk?”

“The majority of them — use your own judgement. If you think I might like to follow it up sometime, put it to one side — but for the rest of them, just send rejection letters, yes.”

“Alright. Good luck, sir.”

“Thanks, Irene.”

He went downstairs, out of the office building, and unlocked his car. At the age of thirty—seven, he had just passed his driver’s practical test. Finally, he had won the war against automobiles! He got in, started it up, and drove off towards Oxford.

An hour or so later, he arrived in the town of Greater Heronry. He parked in the school car park, and got out, locking up his car as he did so. A tall, slightly fat character, with the beginnings of a moustache, hurried across the car park to meet him.

“Mr Redbury?”

“I am.”

“Oh, wonderful to see you. Great honour!”

He walked beside James, and had the strangest walk — it was almost a skip but at walking pace, and oozed enthusiasm. He just couldn’t seem to get his feet to behave in the normal manner. Enthusiastic as it was, after merely ten seconds of it, James was horribly annoyed. It was a wonder, he thought, that this headmaster had not been murdered!

“So, who was this girl?”

“Elizabeth Harding. I believe, according to the statements of the students, she was known to most of her friends as Beth.”

“And when did the tragedy occur?”

“During the leavers’ ball — she was in Year Eleven, who have just finished their GCSE exams. They have a leavers’ ball at the end of the year to celebrate…well, their leaving, obviously.”


“Anyway, she was found dead at the end of the night.”

“Any idea of the method used yet?”

“We’ve got pretty good evidence to show that she was strangled.”

“Where is the body?”

“It’s still where we found it — this only happened last night, you understand. We turned down all of the radiators and such — to slow the body’s decay — but that was all we could really do to cool down the room. The windows in the room don’t open. Once we had done that, we locked the room up, so if anyone had forced the door and removed something from it or added something to it, it would be obvious.”

“Unless the murderer was a teacher.”

“Of course, but I’m the only teacher who was there that night with a key to that room. It’s a maths room, you see. I, of course, have a key for every one of the rooms, but other teachers just have the key to their room. The teachers supervising the ball were Mr Walter, one of our music teachers, Mrs Green, a history and geography teacher, and Mr Clarence, an English teacher. So, you see, the only teacher — the only person, in fact, who had access to that room was me.”

“Why was the girl in the room in the first place?”

“I gave one of the boys — a Raymond Periles, I believe, who accompanied Miss Harding to the ball — the key. She was feeling a bit woozy — in fact, she had almost passed out. I have every reason to believe that she was drunk.”

“Drunk? Surely you don’t allow alcohol to be drunk by sixteen—year—olds in school?”

“No, we don’t allow it, but some way or another it gets in every single year. However, I thought it had been sorted this year. Obviously not.”

“So she was taken to the maths room? Where did this leavers’ ball take place?”

“In the hall — the drama hall.”

“And the maths room is close to there, is it?”

“No — it’s the length of the school away.”

“The length of the school? Why not put her close to the hall?”

“As far as I can remember, Raymond said that she should be put somewhere quiet so that she could sleep off the drink.”

“Sounds reasonable to a sixteen—year—old mind at a disco.”


“Well, in my opinion, if she had almost passed out from drink in front of blaring speakers, there would be no need to put her somewhere quiet for her to go to sleep. But, coming from a sixteen—year—old mind, I suppose it makes sense. Go on.”

“Anyway, he left her there, and when a friend went to check on her after the ball had ended, she had been strangled.”

“I see.”

“Any insights?” the headmaster asked hopefully.

“Not so far, really. A couple of things have brought themselves to my attention, but they could be nothing. I will have to talk to the pupils involved.”

“That’ll be easy — we’ve summoned them into school today to help with this case. Most have cooperated. Very few haven’t.”

“Good. Then I would like to speak to Raymond Periles.”

Raymond Periles sat uncomfortably at a desk opposite James Redbury and Mr Warrant, the headteacher.

“So, Mr Periles,” James said. “I understand that you accompanied Miss Harding to the leavers’ ball. Is that correct?”

“That is correct.”

“Did you have a good time?”

“I think that’s in rather bad taste, Mr Redbury.”

“Oh, sorry. Did you have a good time before discovering that Miss Harding had been killed?”

“It was…reasonably enjoyable.”

“Did you feel that Miss Harding was having a good time?”

“She seemed to enjoy herself.”

“She didn’t seem at all…upset?”

“No, not at all suicidal, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

“I never said anything about suicide.”

“Ah, but there are many volumes told not by words but by other channels — the face, the tone of voice, and such. Is that not right, Mr Redbury?”

“Mr Periles, must you hold up these proceedings?”

“I’m not holding anything up, Mr Redbury. By answering your implied questions, I save you a thousand indirect queries.”

“Could you please just answer Mr Redbury’s questions, Raymond?” the headmaster said.

“Yes, Mr Warrant. Go on, Mr Redbury.”

“So Miss Harding showed no signs of…depression, or paranoia? Any form of mental illness?”

“She seemed perfectly mentally stable in my opinion, Mr Redbury.”

“Did anyone else at the ball show any reason to want to kill her?”

“…Not to my knowledge.”

“Alright. Now. You took Miss Harding to the maths room after she nearly passed out. What caused this sudden faintness?”


“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but I could smell it — quite strongly — on her breath.”

“So. She was drunk — heavily so, in fact, for her to almost pass out — and you took her to the maths room. Why?”

“To get her away from the ball — why else would I do such a thing?”

“No, Mr Periles. You misconstrued my question. Why did you take her to a maths room, favouring it over a closer room?”

“I wanted to get her away from the noise — let her sleep it off.”

“But I thought she was on the verge of unconsciousness already, in the ball?”


“Would she really need peace and quiet to get to sleep at that state of drunkenness?”

“Look, Mr Redbury. Beth had just passed out — well, collapsed — in the middle of a ball. I just wanted to get her to somewhere quickly.”

“And dragging her across the school was the quickest way to get her to a room?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I wasn’t thinking straight!”

“It’s alright, Mr Periles. You may go now. I believe you.”

Raymond Periles got up, and left the office.

“Yes, I believe you,” James said to himself, once Raymond had left. “I believe you. That’s what worries me.”

“So,” said Warrant. “What do you think?”

“At the moment, he seems the most likely. He certainly had the means by which to commit the murder — some time alone and his bare hands. But motive…well. I can’t see any. He presumably liked her quite a bit, if he went to this leavers’ ball with her, and vice versa.”

“However, he showed no sign of being sad about his girlfriend’s death. That might point to his being the murderer.”

“I’m afraid not, Mr Warrant. Firstly, Mr Periles seems to be a very, very intelligent and perceptive young man. If he had murdered her, you would expect him to show emotion — feigned emotion. There was some emotion in him, but it wasn’t grief. If you were to ask me, I’d have to say it was shock. Grief comes later. This lack of emotion is more proof for his innocence than his guilt, I’m afraid.”

“Very well. Who do you want to see next?”

“Well, we’ve spoken to the dead girl’s date. Now I would suggest a friend. Do you have any close friends of Miss Harding’s listed?”

“Yes. One Amy Jones.”

“Very good. Send for her.”

Amy Jones sat down at the questioning table. She was a short girl, with dark hair and light blue, almost grey, eyes. She had an assured look about her — she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong, and therefore she could not be punished.

“You are Amy Jones. Is that correct?”

“It is.”

“You are…. sorry, were, a friend of the deceased Miss Harding. Is that also correct?”

“It is.”

“How long had you been friends with Miss Harding?”

“Since the age of eight,” she said, clearly and without hesitation.

“So…eight years?”


“How would you describe Miss Harding?”

“Loud,” she said immediately. “Outgoing. Enthusiastic. Very attractive, and flirtatious too. Rumours have it that’s why she was killed.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, according to rumours that have been flying around recently, just before the ball, she was seen flirting with Heath Ruston. Even though Heath was going out with Anna.”

“Anna who?”

“Anna Corinth. I emphasise the word “was” — he’s not going out with her anymore. He dumped her.”

“For Miss Harding?”

“I…honestly don’t know. And I don’t like to speculate.”

“So…who might have killed her?”

“I don’t know. Not Anna — she wouldn’t hurt anybody. Wouldn’t be able to, either — she’s tiny. Maybe her friend — Jenny Madison. She got pretty angry when she heard. And she’s vicious when affronted — not like Anna.”

“What about Raymond Periles? If he heard that she had been flirting with this Heath character…”

“Raymond? No. He was too obsessed with Beth to want to kill her.”


“Oh yes. He’s been in love with Beth forever. I’m surprised she didn’t know herself really — the rest of the school knew. She would have just dismissed it as a rumour, anyway, if she had heard.”

“Is that so? Well, thank you, Miss Jones — you have been of great help. Unless there is anything more you would like to tell me?”

“No. That’s all.”

“Very well. You may go.”

She left the room quietly. Warrant looked at James.

“Get anything from that, Mr Redbury? I sure as hell couldn’t.”

“As a matter of fact, I did, Mr Warrant. I learnt that Raymond Periles was “obsessed” with Elizabeth Harding. I learnt of this…interesting link between Miss Harding and Heath Rushton, therefore bringing Miss Corinth and Miss Madison into the equation. I obtained a description of Miss Harding by one of the people who knew her best. And, most important, I now have three new individuals to interview. Mr Rushton, Miss Corinth and Miss Madison. Send for this Heath Rushton. I believe that he will help to shed some light on this affair.”

Heath Rushton sat at the questioning desk, staring intently at its wooden surface. He was dishevelled, but James realised that this unkemptness was not a result of neglect – quite the contrary, in fact. It would, James estimated, take this man an hour or so to reach such a state of apparent disregard. His face was unshaven, and black stubble was beginning to show – a deal more, James noticed with some amusement, than was showing on the face of his headmaster, who was some twenty-five years his senior. He wondered if this young man had even realised the aptness of his first name.

“You are Heathcliff Rushton. Is that correct?”


“Answer Mr Redbury, Heathcliff.”

Silence. James tried another tactic.

“You are Heath Rushton. Is that correct?”

Heath looked up at James.

“Now that is correct,” he said, and then returned his eyes to the table.

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New Gods

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

Christmas shopping. Traditionally done at the last minute. I went to do mine early. Eleven p.m. December 17th. Broke into the local mall. Smashed a window, and watched the glittering fragments fall to the floor. Stepped through the gap, and inside.

I had to stop for a moment: let my eyes adjust to the darkness inside. The thin crescent shard of moon did nothing to illuminate the inside of this building; the huge arching stone carapace above me protected me from the influences of the outside world. Only once I could see perfectly did I step forwards, although I know this place like the back of my hand.

Ever really looked at the back of your hand?

Everything was quiet now. And, even though I didn’t really have to, I had dropped into a revered silence. This place looked so different at night. Felt different, too. It felt…like a church.

Yes. That was what it was. What else could it be? The arch of the roof; the fountains; and the thousands of tiny shrines. Closed now, of course, but the name of their god hung above the door of each place. Hail the great god Gap. Listen to the sacrosanct Wolworth, for he is wise. Let blessing be with the holy brothers Markus and Spencer. It felt wrong, being here. I turned, and fled, forgetting my presence’s purpose entirely. Steal from here? No. Not me.

It took me a week to go back. I drove up in my battered old Ford Focus: got out, and entered cautiously. It was Christmas: a religious time. But I get the feeling that I’m not worshipping the same god as anyone else.

Only I was in, I felt instantly comforted. The hustle and bustle of commercial activity: people rushing back and forth, in search of their own personal paradise. One where everything is always half price, and nothing ever goes out of stock. And I wonder why I feel secure here, now; here, now, amidst the angry buzzing of people all fixed on one objective. Then I realise. Everybody feels safe in their place of worship. I shrugged, and threw myself into the crowd: offered up a quick prayer to the gods that I would be delivered to my destination safely.

Protect me, Gap.

Watch over me, Wolworthus.

See me through, Markus and Spencer.

(December 2004)

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By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

People call me a Luddite: a hater of machines. In this day and age, they say, who can hate machines? Who can live without machine? Nobody.

Yet I do. I live out in the desert. People say I’m half mad. I say I’m the only sane one in a world of insanity. Twenty-five miles from anywhere. A safe distance, except for nuclear weapons and such. And when it comes to nuclear, or biological, or chemical weapons, nobody is safe: from divers in the Pacific trenches to the man on those god-awful space stations. Scrap ‘em all, I say. Go back a few hundred years. Turn back the clocks.

I’ve spent a fair few decades studying technology. Know thy enemy, they say. “If you know yourself, and you know your enemy, you will not be defeated once in a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu. A man of the old regime indeed. And through looking at books, even I can see that technology is leading somewhere. Outside control. Soon, we will be ruled by militarists and religious fanatics. Security in these matters is tight, but is forever tightening. Like a stretched elastic band. Forever tightening. And how tight does security have to get before it, like the band, snaps…and unreels.

How effective will the nuclear weapons be if the guidance systems have been destroyed? How will the army respond if they don’t know where to turn? Nearly everybody has a computer; nearly everybody is a suspect.

The would will be held ransom by an enemy that are invisible: undetectable. Everybody with a computer will be a hostage.

Only I will survive.
(December 2004)

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By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

The Bard of Stratford;
The Gifted Quill;
The Man of Many Words:
I’ve been called them all
And better and worse
In the full course of time.
But now it’s time to gain
Another title. “The Late”.

Yes, I’ve faced it. I’m going to
Ride into the sunset; pass on.
The final act of the final scene. Final bow.
The curtain falls. My last tragedy. No encores.

You want to know how I did it?
How I wrote? Draw close, and I’ll tell you.
I knew for a long time that I was destined for fame.
I know what people want: star-crossed lovers;
Vengeful sons; mad princes; swordfights.
All entangled profusely in the webbed nets
Of convoluted verbiage…everyone’s happy.

Why did I write? For the future. To be
Remembered by the children of the future.

So that, in centuries to come,
Children will sit at home,
Clutching their copy of Julius Caesar –

Hardback, embossed cover – and say,
“Damn Shakespeare!”
(December 2004)

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Try Being

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

Try being nameless.
Try being shapeless.
Try being wordless.
Try being faceless.

Try being a blotch of stereotype
On the page of History.

Try being a mistyped character
On the screen of Life.

Try being an idle scribble in
The notebook of some Supreme Being;
A thought made, considered, then erased.

Try being.

But with others who are wordless, you can have a voice.
With others who are shapeless, you can have a form.
With others who are faceless, you can gain identity.

For from one million characters came the epic novel.
For from one thousand idle scribbles came the Mona Lisa.

Try making the minority into the majority.
Try tipping the scales; try stirring it up.

Try, being.

Try being heard.

(December 2004)

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By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

I sit down and so does she. We look at each other: but our eyes are different, but strangely the same. Hazel, with flecks of brown. They are different merely in expression: for while mine are filled with wonder and love, hers have hate mixed up in the love that brought her here today. I’m thirty-three: she’s sixteen. Elle and I had her when we were both seventeen. We thought we were ready: thought wrong. This is my daughter. One of the three I ran out on.

I was a bad father. Awful, in fact. I had no knack to fatherhood. Couldn’t do anything right. Elle agreed. The baby screamed the place down one day when she was three, and I’d been failing this relentless assessment for three years and a bit. I forgot to test the temperature of the bathwater. It was close to boiling. Heat rash came up in angry red patches all over her body. Elle and I argued. I left; went for a walk, and never returned.

Finally, after a pause of millennia, she says the first word, strangled with tears. She asks why I left. My tongue is unresponsive to all commands, and I am silent.

I forgot everything. Forgot anniversaries and birthdays without fail: even forgot Christmas, on one rare occasion. Forgot my girl’s first birthday, and her second, and her third. Didn’t stay around for any more.

She asks me again: why did I leave? I replied. I was a bad father. She screws her face up in scorn. Did you really think that leaving would make it any better? You disgust me.

I thought of going back: every day of my life, I thought about going back. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bear to see the family that I walked out on. Couldn’t bear to face them. Was too scared about their reaction: whether they’d be angry. Whether? Of course they’d be angry. Wouldn’t I have been, if my dad had walked out when I was still in nappies? Damn right I would have been.

I put a hand forward, and stroke hers. She pulls it away. She tells me that her mother told her not to see me. She told her I’d be a disappointment. And I am: she doesn’t say it, but I can see it in her eyes. Her eyes where, slowly, tears are starting to form, glisten, then bead down her face slowly. My own eyes begin to water, and I turn my head away.

Elle always said I was too emotional. Her views were very Victorian: a man shouldn’t have emotions of any kind. He should be head of the household: the provider. But, however much she let me rule, you could tell from her eyes that she wanted power.

I see it in her eyes too: my daughter’s, that is. Repressed. Introverted. Shy. Like I was. I stroke her hand again, and this time she doesn’t pull away – instead, her fingers intertwine with mine, and she bursts into a flood of tears.

Now I know that I’m not a bad father. No matter what Elle thinks. No matter what I thought, or what my daughter thought. I may not be able to test bathwater or warm milk or give advice about sex and drugs and drink, but there’s one thing I can do. One thing I could do, but never appreciated. Something I stopped doing when I left, and something I’m never, ever going to stop now I’m back. Doesn’t require any thought: just love.

Just…being there. Her mother can do all the active stuff: can lecture on boys and weed and vodka cocktails, but there’s one thing she can’t do. One thing I can do.

I can just…be there. A shoulder to cry on – a hand to hold – a sympathetic ear. Elle was never sympathetic. I always will be.
(December 2004)

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Henry V

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

I stood there,
Feeling patriotic,
On a misty morning
On the Agincourt fields
And I stood before my men,
All looking up eagerly, waiting,
And I – no notes, mind you – said to them
Right, lads. This is what you’re going to tell them, or else…
Jan 2005

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Playing with Fire

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

Liquid fire. I hold gingerly, but with a look of love. Bottled fire: tamed for human handling. Pure petroleum.
Harbinger, Lancashire: a nice place. That was before I got here. I screw places up. Come along, destroy all sense of order, then move on. I torched a cocktail bar the other night: a rum and Coke doesn’t go down half as well as a Molotov cocktail, believe me. People ran out, screaming, shouting. My work.
I pour a little into the lid of a jar, and strike a match. Drop it in, and watch it bubble and flare and spit. Liquid fire; bottled fire. Mine. All mine.
I burnt down a church yesterday evening. Defied God: doused His house in petrol, and then set it ablaze. It crackled merrily in the quiet evening; coughing out fumes onto those downwind. Smoking them out: smiting them with my godly powers. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Chest infections. Lung cancer.
I hold up the bottle, and watch it swirl around. Liquid, brown, slightly sticky: it hung to the sides, and then rolled down. It was amazing that this burned. I go outside, into the garden, and stand the half-full bottle in the middle of it. Open it, strike a match, and drop it in. Watch the bottle blaze, then melt and spill its flaming contents onto the patio. Watch the fire creep to the house. Minutes later, that’s ablaze. No matter. Been borrowing it from a friend.
I always carry matches; so many things burn. Almost anything burns, with a bit of provocation. Would carry a lighter, but can’t get the hand of striking the flint. Could, with practice, but I abhor practice. Practice is for losers. Most things are for losers, in my opinion. The only thing for the truly great is fire.
I moved from Harbinger the next day: on to a different town. The towns are always different. The fire is always the same. I arrived in Heartridge, Yorkshire. Again, borrowed a house from a friend. I don’t have the money to do anything else: I’ve never worked. Working, like many things, is for losers. No. Wait. Worked in a DIY superstore once: managed to steal quite a few bottles of white spirit before they caught me at the game, and chucked me out.
I arrive at a shopping mall. Lots of things here are bound to burn. White spirit and petrol swill around in their bottles in my left pocket; matches rattle in my right. I giggle. Playing with fire.
I arrive in the centre of the complex. The optimum point of destruction. I take one of the bottles – the white spirit – from my pocket. They are both glass: thick glass, but will still shatter on dropping. I take the matches from my other pocket, light one, open the bottle, and drop it in: I now hold fire in my hands. Glass doesn’t heat easily. I should be safe. Somebody sees this, and has enough time to stare blankly for a moment before I slosh the burning fluid over him. He screams: drops and rolls at once. I laugh. People amuse me. Another man, a security guard this time, runs at me. I throw the bottle, and it explodes into tiny fragments, spraying fire every which way, at his feet. It creeps up his legs and his torso, and he screams also. I laugh louder. Suddenly, a fist strikes me on the back of the head. I fall down, and the bottle in my left pocket smashes. Glass eats into my thigh, but I have bigger problems. The flames are reaching me, and liquid fire is flowing in a puddle around me. It catches, and this time I scream as it burns me. I try to get up, but only stumble and fall again. Fall into the mess which I made.
I suppose there’s a lesson to be learnt here, I think as I lie dying: killed by my own creation. You can play with fire all you like. But, sooner or later, you’re going to get burnt. (December 2004)

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Killing the Chrysanthemum

By Matthew, 15, South Gloucestershire, England

Chrysanthemums. They were her favourite flower. Second were roses, then lilies. But chrysanthemums were top of the list.

I walk, trance-like, through the greenhouse. Dream-house: it holds so many memories. Everywhere I see roses. Red. White. Yellow. Pink. Lilies, occasionally: but, at the centre with pride of place, is the lone chrysanthemum. Pure and beautiful, it stands alone from the rest, as she did. Fragile, as she was. Beautiful…

I soon see it as my duty to keep it alive. I’ve already given it a name: It shall be called Rosemary. After her. I tend it, nurture it, feed it, water it: all the others go to waste. Blacken, rot and decay. The chrysanthemum is a pillar of life, in a temple of death.

I’m slowly beginning to realise my obsession: this thing must stay alive. Where did “must” come into it? When did this fancy become a fixation?

I’ve begun to neglect it. Tried, anyway. But every time I try to leave it be, I become more drawn into it. Every time a petal withers and falls, I feel like I’ve lost something inside of me. Every time a leaf browns and blackens, I feel a pain inside me.

This is the last time. This time I’ll do it. It won’t be watered or fed. I’ll leave it outside: out in the cold. But every time I see it out there, I find myself shivering.
It’s back inside now. I couldn’t bear to see it suffer.

This is the last time: this final crusade, this ultimate campaign. I will not let it live. I go to the cupboard, and fetch scissors. I go to the greenhouse, amidst the stench of what has now turned to compost, and ready myself. Only a flower. Nothing special. Only a flower. I open and close the blades once or twice: hear the evil sound. I open them again, and move them to cut the stem: that thin green life-giving umbilical cord, holding it together. Holding me together.

I snip.

The severed head falls to the floor: bounces once, softly, and then lies still. I feel a jab of pain…and then nothing but relief. Freedom. And I feel as if, for the first time, Rosemary is truly dead.
(December 2004)

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