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A Tale of Terror and Escape
An American Orphan in post WWII London staying in a school for troubled boys must escape the clutches of a tyrannical headmaster named Mr. Hugo.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/rgmeo 498 views
|2 publishers interested|
My 63,000 word novel, Crowam 281, is a mystery-suspense novel in the same mold as George Orwell’s 1984 and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, where desolate children are subjected to violence and control amongst themselves and at the hands of authority.
Jake Hudson is an American orphan in post World War II London whose father was shot down over the skies of Europe and mother killed in a car wreck back at the states. Alone and defiant of authority, Jake is thrown out of every orphanage he’s put in, eventually being placed in Crowam 281, a school for troubled boys.
Boys disappearing, random beatings by guards, and the school’s mysterious and tyrannical headmaster, Mr.Hugo. Hudson realizes this is no ordinary school. After deciding to escape through the school’s ventilation shaft, Hudson discovers Crowam’s terrifying secret. He along with a few of his comrades lead a harrowing escape of the student body. If they fail, no one will leave Crowam 281 alive.
The novel is based on my emphasis of the Hero's Journey as discussed by Joseph Campbell. Jake Hudson, bitter after the death of his father, is cynical of the world and reluctant to take on the role of the hero.
His friend, Thomas, becomes a mentor, inspiring him to answer the call to adventure and face the Vadersque antagonist of Mr. Hugo.
Crowam 281 is a tale of inspiration and courage in the face of evil. It's a timeless tale that transcends cultures, giving Crowam the potential to become an international best seller.
Chapter 1: We're introduced to Jake and the backstory of his father dying in the war. We see Jake as a troubled kid getting kicked out of one orphanage after another.
Chapter 2: Jake Hudson gets on the bus and begins the journey to Crowam 281.We're introduced to Charles and The Bus Driver
Chapter 3: Jake arrives in Crowam 281 where we first meet the school's mysterious headmaster, Mr. Hugo.
Chapter 4: Jake meets his roommate, Thomas
Chapter 5: Jake and some of the other students theorize the origins of Mr. Hugo.
Chapter 6: The Bus Driver beats a boy in the courtyard. The boy is carried off never to be seen again.
Chapter 7: Jake, Thomas go the school's basement where we meet the rest of boys and learn about their journey to Crowam 281.
Chapter 8: Jake gets paddle boarded for speaking up in class. He is beaten by Tom and several other students on the bathroom.
Chapter 9: Jake meets the nurse and love interest, Hannah and defends Tom from getting harassed by The Bus Driver
Chapter 10: Jake is sent to Mr. Hugo's office. Mr. Hugo doesn't appreciate Jake's defiance.
Chapter 11: Thomas reveals to Jake his tragic past.
Chapter 12: The guards abuse some of the boys during morning exercises. Jake sees something is afoot.
Chapter 13: The boys meet in the basement. Talk about girls, life, and what it would be like if they had parents. Discuss what life could be like outside the walls of Crowam 281.
Chapter 14: Jake asks Hannah out and gets turned down.
Chapter 15: Jake attempts to save Hannah from an aggressive guard. She could handle herself. They decide to meet at night.
Chapter 16: Jake and Hannah meet in the attic. Jake discovers a room full of beds. Some of them weren't empty.
Chapter 17: Jake picks on professor Vanden and end up back in Mr Hugo's office. Hugo gives him a warning of what's to come. The love affair between Jake and Hannah begins.
Chapter 18: Jake has a nightmare.
Chapter 19: Jake asks Hannah to escape with him. She refuses. Jake ends up in the dungeon of Crowam.
Chapter 20: The cells are dark. Jake meets Joshua, a prisoner of the dungeon. After days in in the dungeon, Jake is released.
Chapter 21 Captain Longwood and the guard burn Thomas's most prized possession, his books. Thomas gets burned into the fire and disappears.
Chapter 22: Jake attempts an escapes through the ventilation shaft. What he sees through one the vents makes him realize no one is leaving Crowam 281 alive.
Chapter 23: Jake and the boys plot their escape. Jake is kidnapped, taken to infirmary where he is to be lobotomized.
Chapter 24: Jake awakens to find Hannah and Mr. Hugo staring at him. Hannah betrayed him. Charles and Felix free Jake.
Chapter 25: Jake bids farewell to Thomas, bedridden and dead inside.
Chapter 26: The boys start a riot as a diversion. The escape begins.
Chapter 27: Hannah dies. They manage to make it outside and continue the fight.
Chapter 28: Jake is taken at gunpoint by Mr.Hugo back to his office. Mr. Hugo points his gun, but is shot by a policeman. The cavalry arrives.
Chapter 29: The fight is over. Jake sees strangers overhead. It's Thomas's parents.
Chapter 30: Jake and boys go their own separate ways, but it seems they are destined for fortune and glory.
Fans of literary classics like A Separate Piece and inspirational fantasy epics like The Alchemist will be the primary readers of Crowam 281.
I wanted to a write novel I felt could grow in popularity over time. By focusing on the hero's journey, I hit on themes: heroism, courage, and overcoming evil, that can transcend cultures and potentially make Crowam 281 a success both domestically and abroad. We live in an age where there is a demand for content that is both nostalgic, while giving readers a story that can both entertain and inspire them. Readers are yearning for something concrete and rich with content and a message of hope in divisive times. Crowam 281 can serve as that vehicle for such a message because of its setting in post WWI London, and the protagonist, Jake Hudson, a troubled American orphan who answers the call of the hero and challenge the tyrannical Mr. Hugo.
According to Statistica, readers overwhelmingly read fiction/novels 80% of the time compared to non-fiction books, which readers read 56% of the time.
Stastica also points out that mystery thriller novels are one of the most popular literary genres, making Crowam 281 a viable novel to sell in a growing market space thanks to the popularity of eBooks and indie publishing.
Readers who take a genuine interest in nostalgia, mystery/ suspense, and inspirational stories will enjoy my novel. The challenge will be expanding from my readers of interest and market towards a mass readership.
Writing Crowam 281 was a labor of love. My love for adventure novels was the inspiration behind writing my novel. I wanted to write something that was fun, easy to read, and can lead to a potential series where we see Jake Hudson and friends go on numerous adventures. Some of the influences for writing Crowam were films such as Indiana Jones and Star Wars, both films which follow the hero's journey archetype.
Frank has written seven books in the past four years, including Wild Pitch, a baseball drama currently sold at Barnes & Nobel retailers in Tampa, Florida.
Before becoming a writer, Frank worked in the financial services industry as a banker and real estate agent. His experiences in the business world inspired him to write I'm Not God: I'm a Real Estate Agent, and You're Fired When Can You Start, books detailing his experiences as a college grad in the aftermath of the U.S. financial crisis.
Frank is also an entrepreneur helping launch young startups and is a public speaker, discussing on how to harness our inner creativity.
Frank has degrees in Finance and English from the University of South Florida. He currently resides in Tampa.
For Crowam 281, I have been conducting book signings at local book store in the Tampa Bay Area. I created two book trailers that I have been promoting on Facebook. You can view them by clicking here and here.
On my website I am using a free eBook titled Tweak, a book on my creative process, as a lead magnet to grow my email list, which has seen impressive growth due to the eBook.
I will also be posting content on sites like medium.com to grow my audience, drive traffic to my site, and convert sales.
As an entrepreneur, I conduct presentations on creativity and problem solving, giving me a platform to showcase my expertise as a writer and promote Crowam 281.
In the past six months I have been conducting books signings at local Barnes & Nobel retailers in the Tampa area where my sixth novel, Wild Pitch, is currently being sold. By developing relationships with B&N retailers, I can promote and sell Crowam 281 to thousands of potential customers.
It’s amazing how blood can ooze out of the human body…. to watch it drip out the wounds and trickle to the floor, where it somehow changes its’ consistency and color. I never knew blood could vary in color either. I saw it in dark red, pinkish, and even shades of black mixed with red. Some of the blood I saw came from people who were alive, others dead, and others who might as well have been dead but weren’t.
I contemplated telling this story. I never thought of myself as much of a storyteller. I never thought of myself as much of anything, really. I hated talking about myself, thinking it was rude to gloat all the time. I mean, who the hell wants to hear somebody else brag about how grand they are?
But this story, well, this is different. It’s not so much about me. It’s really about how a bunch of kids survived the clutches of a madman.
I was never religious, to tell you the truth. I never had anything against God. I just never met him. But after my time spent at Crowam No.281, I came to realize that there is great unspeakable evil in this world. That there is this duality of good and evil that comprises human existence.
I never understood why people do bad things. What drives them to bring pain and suffering to others? The unspeakable horrors the human mind can devise is truly terrifying. Yet somehow, amidst the horror, breathtaking beauty can be created that made the duality of good and evil crystal clear.
It began several years ago in London, England. It was a few years after the end of World War II. My dad was an American bomber pilot stationed with the RAF in England, flying bomber missions behind enemy lines in Europe. He flew B-17s. The workhorse of the European theater. The plane could take a beating and still bring her crew home. My dad flew twelve missions over Europe before getting shot down.
The Air Force didn’t provide many details, other than the fact that there weren’t any remains. Those Kraut bastards must have really torn that plane to shreds for there to be nothing left. I got all broken up when my dad died. I didn’t want to know anything from anybody.
My mom was something special. The sweetest woman you’d ever meet. She died in a bad car accident shortly before the war started. My mom rarely drove my dad’s Buick. It was a hot July day in New York where you could fry an egg on the fire escape. My dad was sick with a summer cold. She insisted on driving to the store to get some medicine. Even though my dad told her not to, she didn’t enjoy being told what to do. This caused my parents to get into plenty of arguments.
A few hours went by and my mom still wasn’t home. My dad and I were worried. We heard a knock on the door. I got to it before my dad. I opened the door to find a tall police officer standing at the entrance of the doorway. His intimidating presence loomed over me. The mood in the living room became ominous the moment the cop stepped inside the sanctuary of our home, which I thought was impervious to the reality of the outside world. My dad grabbed me and pushed me aside. “Are you Mr. Hudson?” The officer asked.
“Yes,” my dad said, blocking the door.
“I’m afraid your wife’s been in an accident,” the police officer said.
When we got to the hospital, my dad made me wait in the lobby. I remember this old man who sat across from me. He stared down at the white ceramic tile floor. A nurse approached him. I couldn’t hear what the nurse said; he just nodded his head, got up, and walked away. Whatever the nurse told him, he accepted it for what it was, as if he knew what she was going to say.
Boy did I hate waiting in that lobby. A nurse with curly gray hair approached me. “Would you like anything?” she asked.
“No thanks,” I said.
Behind the nurse was a hallway, where a few doctors and nurses performed their rounds. My dad exited out of the last doorway on the left. Like that old man, his head was limp and he stared at the floor as he walked down the hallway. He took his time, ignoring the doctors and nurses who got out of his way. He sat down next to me. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes watery. I could tell he was crying. I never saw my dad cry before.
It made me feel insecure scared. “What’s wrong, dad? What happened with mom?” I asked.
He gazed at me with somber eyes. He put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re going to have to be strong for me little man.”
“What?” I said.
I sprinted down the hallway. “Jake!” My dad yelled. I ran as fast as I could to the end of the hallway. I almost reached the doorknob before my dad yanked me by my shirt and pulled me to him. “I want to see mom!”
“Please, I want to see her.”
“She’s gone, Jake.”
“Let me go!” I began punching my dad until my arms were too tired. I wrapped my arms around him and cried. That was the only time in my life my dad let me cry. I suppose he would’ve felt like a hypocrite if he got all tough on me after I caught him crying. Sometimes, a man can only take so much before he breaks down.
That day has been recycled in my mind like a damn movie. I wish I could have taken a knife and carved out that moment from my memory. It never went away. Sometimes I hated my mom for leaving us. I even hated my dad. It was irrational and juvenile, but as a young kid trying to make sense of the world, it was the only way I knew how to react.
Since my mom’s death, I’ve felt this burden, this otherness, consuming me, distracting me from my own life. My dad and I did our best to move on. Baseball was great way to keep our minds off of things. We used to go to all the Yankee games, watching Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio play centerfield, wearing that number five.
My dad would point out into center. “You see who that is? That’s Joe DiMaggio.”
Before the war, I was different. I was your average kid who read comics and played ball, hoping to one day play for the Yankees. The otherness was still there, but it became a part of who I was. When the war started, things were never the same.
Since my mom was dead, my dad made arrangements to have me shipped with him to England when he began flight training. He had some experience flying crop dusters and mail planes back in the day. I wasn’t too excited about going to England.
The urge to cry took hold of me. I figured I could get away with it, seeing that I was a kid that had lost his mom. But I was wrong. My dad nearly knocked my head off. You should have seen him.
“What the hell are you crying about? Act like a man!” He never yelled at me much, but he sure did get sore when I was about to bawl. I made sure never to cry in front of him again.
Anyway, I went to England, since there really wasn’t any extended family for me to stay with back in New York. My grandparents were dead and my aunt was in California working as a clown in the circus. Can you believe that? The damn circus. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against clowns or anything like that, but it just doesn’t seem like a good profession to get in to. I mean, just imagine for a second if somebody asked you what you did for a living and you said that you were “a clown?” The person would think you were a nut.
But everyone has their calling, I guess. The world wants clowns and somebody has to do it, I suppose. After my dad died, the Air Force took it upon themselves to decide I wasn’t old enough to be on my own. I was thirteen at the time. Yea maybe I was a kid, but I could have taken care of myself. I thought I was tough, that I could take on the world. I certainly wasn’t interested in being raised by a family of strangers.
I bounced around from one orphanage to another. I got kicked out of all of them. You see, I don’t really like people telling me what to do. I’m kind of like how my mom was. My dad wanted me to join the air force when I became of age, but hell, I would have been kicked out in a heartbeat. Just imagine me standing in line in some barracks having some drill sergeant bark orders at me. I would have laughed right in the guy’s face. No kidding, I would have.
I didn’t give a damn about nobody but myself. I just wanted to be eighteen and get out of dodge. I wanted to go back to the States. I didn’t like England much. Many of the buildings in London were damaged or destroyed from the war. In some parts, you would have thought the world ended. It might as well have. I never understood war. I guess people just can’t work out their differences. Don’t get me wrong. Hitler was a son of a bitch and all. There are lots of sons of bitches out there. Some worse than others who deserve to get theirs. Maybe that’s what war is about, to give some son of a bitch what he deserves.
Bouncing around from one orphanage to another, I just kept to myself. I was looking out for me. All the other boys would brag about how they were going to get the best parents in the world, yada yada yada. I couldn’t have cared less.
I wasn’t interested in getting adopted. I had parents once and they left me. One in a car accident, the other one blown to pieces all over Europe.
Losing my parents toughened me up. I got into fights. Some won, some lost. I guess that’s what life’s all about. There was this one fight I got into with a seventeen year old. I was only fourteen at the time. The kid was enormous. Probably was over six feet tall. I was playing ball out with some of the other boys and this kid just walked on over, took the baseball, and threw it over the fence.
I got so ticked off that there was no hesitation on my part. I just walked over and began wailing on him. I just kept throwing my fists hoping to hit something. I landed a few punches. He landed one on me that I’m still feeling to this day. He knocked me straight to the ground. The kid could have downright killed me.
The nurse said I was unconscious for ten whole minutes before I woke in the nurse’s office. “Did I win?” I asked the nurse.
“I’m afraid not,” the nurse replied.
You’ve got to hand it to the British, being proper and all. I felt embarrassed to talk to them at all. They speak like they’re a thousand times smarter than me, and they probably are. It’s not like I’m dumb. Just street smart. I hated going to school, reading all them textbooks filled with nonsense written by a bunch of dead people.
The teachers always used to ask me questions, like this one teacher that looked like he was as old as Moses. The poor guy looked like he was about to croak. “Who was Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted advisor, Mr. Hudson?”
Now how the hell was I supposed to know that? Who did he think he was? I just shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know.”
Then he started to get all fancy on me. “You don’t know? Perhaps ignorance truly is bliss.”
That got my blood boiling. I grabbed the damn textbook and threw it clear across the classroom. I thought the old man was going to croak right then and there. The whole class rioted.
The old man damn near scared me for a moment. He grabbed his chest like he was about to have a heart attack. Thought I killed the guy.
It wasn’t long before I got kicked out. I certainly had the habit of getting into trouble. I just couldn’t help it. Being told what to do by a bunch of adults wasn’t very appealing to me. They just went through the motions, shoving us kids in a bunch of dormitories, feeding us, and hoping some gullible jerks would take us away.
I remember I was out in the schoolyard of some slum of an orphanage outside of London. I was sitting on the schoolyard steps, just minding my own business. This kid was walking around by himself with this yoyo. He whipped it and flung it in the air with meticulous precision. He could have been a yoyo maestro for all I knew. A few of the older boys decided to pick on the poor bastard. The kid was goofy looking and was as thin as a rail. They wailed on him. They threw him to the ground and kept punching him till he got a bloody nose.
None of the adults came in to help, not even the school’s headmaster.
After they were done with him, they walked away with his yoyo. I don’t know why I didn’t do anything. I mean, it’s not like I wanted to see the kid beat up or anything. The kid got up and wiped the blood and snot off of his face. “Were you there the whole time?” He looked at me with a mixture of sadness and wonder.
Boy, was I embarrassed. What the hell was I going to say to him? I just shrugged my shoulders.
“Why didn’t you do anything?”
The kid was really getting on my nerves. “I don’t know,” I said. It was a stupid answer, but it’s all I could think of. I never saw that kid again. Maybe he got adopted. Who knows, I guess.
A week later I was sitting on my bed in my room looking through a nudie magazine. I hid them under my bed so my roommate wouldn’t steal them. My roommate was a real hornball, always talking about doing it and all and bragging about how many girls he’d been with. I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, considering the kid fell right underneath the ugly tree. The kid had these teeth he didn’t brush for weeks. All brown and stained. Just flat out disgusting.
“What are you reading there?” He stared at me and the magazines.
“None of your business,” I said.
“I’m not intruding on your business. I’m just attempting to satisfy my curiosity.”
“The only thing you’re trying to satisfy is your urge to masturbate with my magazines. These are mine, chief.” I clenched the magazine between my hands.
“How am I a chief?”
“For Christ sake, it’s a figure of speech.” I tried to avoid eye contact with him, so he would go away and stop talking to me.
“Oh bollocks, you Americans speak so damn funny sometimes.”
“Who you calling funny?”
“I believe it’s my attempt at a figure of speech, so you say.” He chuckled underneath his breath.
“You’re getting to be a real bore William, you really are.”
“A bore. How am I a bore? I’m the best roommate a chum like yourself can ask for.”
“Yes, we’re brothers now. Brothers in arms, one might say.”
“Sure Willy, sure, whatever you say.” The kid just wouldn’t shut up. He sat on the bunk next to me. He took off his shoes and tossed them across the room, nearly knocking over the baseball mitt that sat on top of the night table. “Hey! Watch where you’re throwing that thing.”
“Sorry,” he muttered
William had the tenacity to be awkward. He just lay there staring at me, like I was something fascinating. “Anything interesting?”
“In the magazine, you fool!”
People and their damn questions. I didn’t feel like giving Willy here a lesson on female anatomy. For someone who used to brag about being with some many girls, the kid sure acted like a novice. “Tell me Willy, how many girls have you been with?”
“My name is William,” he corrected.
“Sure, William. Come on, what was the number again?”
“I’m not the kind of gentleman to brag.”
“You were bragging a few days ago Willy.”
“My name is William!”
“Hey take it easy kid. Don’t get all sore.” I laughed.
“You’re just a regular jokester aren’t you.” He stared at me with eyes full of resentment.
“Jokester? Why would I joke about you?” I opened my magazine and pretended to ignore him.
“Well if you must know, I’ve been with five ladies.” His eyes darted around the room.
“Five! I thought it was six! Yea. Last week you said you were with six girls. As a matter of fact, the week before you said seven,” I said.
“I guess I can’t keep track of all of them.” He avoided looking me in the eyes.
“Perhaps. Or maybe you’re just full of it.” I closed the magazine and shoved it into the mattress.
“Full of it?”
“Yea, I think you’re lying. Call it one of those figures of speech we Americans have that you Brits cannot seem to understand.”
“First, you insult my name and now I’m a liar!” William stood up and walked over to my bed to stand over me.
“All that I’m saying is that you can be completely honest with me that’s all. No need to impress me.”
Willy plopped himself on his bed again, folding his arms like some sort of child. “The sooner you’re no longer my roommate, the better.”
“Look who’s insulting who now?” The loud knock on the door startled Willy, causing him to nearly fall off the bed.
“Hudson, the headmaster would like to see you,” the headmaster’s assistant said through the door.
“Me, why?” I walked over to the door and opened it.
“Come on, Hudson. You’ll find out soon enough.” She indicated for me to follow her, as she quickly walked down the hall.
“What’s the rush? I’m just having a fine conversation with my good friend Willy here.”
“Good friends! That is preposterous. Can you please take him out of here!” Willy pleaded with the headmaster’s assistant.
“You’re not in the position to give me orders, young man,” she said sternly from a distance.
“It’s not an order. Just a request,” William said.
“Take it easy, Willy. I’ll get out of your hair. Don’t touch my damn magazines.” I started to follow the headmaster’s assistant down the hall.
“Why would I want to touch your filthy magazines?” William said under his breath.
“I doubt it’s to read the intriguing commentary, Willy,” I yelled back from down the hall.
Sitting in the waiting room at the headmaster’s office was a welcome respite from William. His hidden eagerness to pleasure himself with my magazines was a raw reminder of the raging hormones that stirred in all us teenage boys. There weren’t any good magazines to read, which made my wait annoyingly dull. Just the secretary typing away at some busy work nobody cares about. She had this fluffy gray hair and these glasses that were as thick as a telephone pole. I decided to kick my feet back on the coffee table.
“Take your feet off the table,” the secretary said.
“What? I’m just trying to relax.” I begrudgingly moved my feet to the carpet.
“You’re being extremely rude and I don’t like your tone.”
“My tone? My tone is perfectly lovely.”
“Lovely? You have an awful tone. Perhaps the worst in the school.”
This was hardly the first time that I got underneath her skin. I could tell she hated my guts. Not just because I rested my feet on the coffee table. It was just some old people didn’t like the young. They think they know everything.
Maybe it was also because I had been to the headmaster’s office too many times to count. She probably thought we were all a bunch of delinquents who didn’t know any better. Maybe old people were all sore because death knocked around the corner.
I sat in the waiting room as the secretary kept watch of me underneath those huge rims of hers, while she filed her nails.
“So, what are you doing after work?” I was bored and needed to find a way to entertain myself.
“Excuse me?” She stopped filing her nails and stared at me.
“Yea, you know. What do you do when you’re not typing and filing your nails?” I snickered under my breath.
“I don’t think that is any of your business, Mr. Hudson.”
“What? I’m just starting a conversation.”
“Well… keep your conversations to yourself.”
“Rough crowd today.” I shifted in my seat.
“It’s a figure of speech.”
“You Americans need to learn how to speak proper English.”
“You know something lady? You’re probably right. I speak like a damn ignoramus, don’t I? A real dull blade.” I put my feet back on the table.
“Mr. Hudson, I think you would be doing us both a favor if you didn’t speak anymore.”
“That wouldn’t be any fun.”
“Get your feet off of the table.” The phone rang and she picked it up, before slamming the phone into the receiver. “Mr. Raywood will see you now.”
“Sounds swell. Are you going to miss me?”
“Now, Mr. Hudson!”
“Alright, alright. I’m going.” I walked toward the headmaster’s door. I turned back to stare at the secretary for a moment before opening the door.
I was welcomed into the office by cigarette smoke. Mr. Raywood smoked like a damn chimney. He must have smoked eight cartons a day. He puffed away while reviewing my charts. His bald head shined underneath the office light. I sat in that chair for what seemed like an eternity before he even looked at me. He just sat at his desk, filling out paper work. Talk about a boring job. I mean think about it. Sitting behind some desk all day filling out paperwork. I think I would throw myself off a bridge before I took some desk job. I mean I sort of felt sorry for the guy.
I got antsy just sitting there. I was twiddling my thumbs trying to find something to do…
“From what it sounds like you were giving Ms. Ratchet a hard time out there?” he said, as he looked up from his paperwork.
“Oh that wasn’t my intention sir. I was just starting a conversation, that’s all.”
“I’m always up for good conversation. You should see me at dinner parties. I can talk up a storm.”
“I’m sure you’re a regular party animal sir.”
“Mr. Hudson. Do you know how many boarding schools you’ve been thrown out of?”
“I sort of lost track to be honest.”
“Six. Six times Mr. Hudson. Three in the past year. You seem to have worn out your welcome in a number of other institutions. And do you know why you are not welcome?”
I hated questions. He was just dragging on and on about my record. What a bore. He really was. What in God’s name would he talk about at all those dinner parties? Watching two snails screw would be more exciting than listening to this guy. “No sir.”
“Well let me enlighten you. You were cited for insubordination twelve times, Mr. Hudson. Some of your most compelling achievements included throwing a textbook at one of our finest professors, professor Hubert, giving the man a near heart attack. Of course, we can’t forget the number of physical altercations you have gotten into, and least I forget the Dem de la crème, sticking a cherry bomb in the men’s stall, which is the equivalent to half a stick of dynamite.”
“It was just a little firecracker.”
“A little firecracker that set a fire to the men’s bathroom, Mr. Hudson, which cost one thousand pounds to repair.”
“That’s a lot of dough.”
“A lot of dough it is indeed, Mr. Hudson. Now I have tried and tried to understand why you do these things. When you actually apply yourself, your grades are extraordinary. That’s of course if you apply yourself, which I’m sad to say is not very often. What would your parents have thought your behavior Mr. Hudson?”
“It doesn’t matter. They’re dead.”
Mr. Raywood let out one of these long sighs. The poor guy rubbed his bald head like he was going to peel the skin right off. “Mr. Hudson. I know deep down you have marvelous potential. But I cannot continue to tolerate your behavior any longer. I must set an example for the younger boys in this school. I’m afraid you’re being transferred.”
“Which one of your fine institutions am I being sent to next?”
“This isn’t just any institution, I’m afraid. It’s a special school for troubled boys. I wish I didn’t have to do this, Mr. Hudson. I really wanted to help you. But I have no choice in the matter.”
“Sure, Mr. Raywood. I understand.”
“The bus will pick you up first thing in the morning. Good day, Mr. Hudson.”
“I guess that’s my cue,” I said as I stood up from the chair and walked toward the door.
When I exited Mr. Raywood’s office, Ms. Ratchet was still filing her damn nails. Christ, you’d think filing her nails was part of her job description. “See ya around, Ms. Ratchet. You gonna miss me?” She just kept filing her nails like I wasn’t even in the room. “Guess not.”
Have you ever gotten this sick feeling in your stomach like something bad’s going to happen? The morning they took me away, I just got this feeling. Call it a hunch, I guess. I just felt God awful. It could have been the breakfast I had in the morning: stale toast with jam and burnt coffee that wasn’t very appetizing but satisfied by hunger nonetheless. Some days breakfast would be great. Sometimes on Fridays they would serve eggs and bacon with toast. But because of the war, they only allowed a certain number of boys to eat the eggs and bacon now. The rest would eat biscuits. I didn’t mind the biscuits all that much. But you kind of got bored with them after a while. I’d eaten enough biscuits to turn into one!
I sat in this pale blue school bus. It was just me and another chubby boy who sat across from me, eating a candy bar and getting the chocolate all over his shirt. I became nauseous when the bus started moving. The stopping and going made me so queasy, I damn near puked all over myself. That would have been something. Arriving at school with bits of toast and vomit all over. I’m sure that would have impressed the other boys.
Once we got out of London, we hit the main highway where the drive was smooth, without all that stopping and going because of the traffic in the city. I tried to get a little bit of shuteye. I couldn’t sleep much the night before. Willy kept snoring like a bastard. I swear he could have woken up the whole damn school with his snoring. I tried putting my pillow over my ears to drown out the noise. I threw one of my shoes at him to get him to pipe him down. He wasn’t too happy about it.
“Why would you do something like that?” Willy said, before he tossed my shoe to the floor.
“Because you snore like a damn animal, that’s why. Keep it down.”
“I can’t. It’s a condition I have.”
“A condition. What condition?”
“The doctors say I have bad lungs.”
“Bad lungs? They seem fine to me.”
“Oh, why bother explaining it to an ignorant fool like yourself.”
As a parting gift, I gave Willy the best gift a roommate could ask for: a bruise right in the face from my other shoe. Poor kid. He started bawling all over himself. I kind of felt bad afterward. I mean I had nothing against the kid. I guess he meant well in his own way. He just got on my nerves sometimes. “Would you stop crying? I didn’t throw it that hard.”
“Yes you did. It hurts, I tell you.”
“What do you want me to do? Kiss it for you?”
“No, you bastard.”
“Hey, I at least had parents. You’re the bastard.”
“You’re awful. God awful. The worst sort of boy. You Americans. You think you can say and do whatever you want and get away with it.”
“Hey, I thought we were allies. Regular chums, Willy. Don’t you remember the war.”
“The war’s been over for sometime.”
“Listen. I’m sorry.” I grabbed the nudie magazines from my bed and tossed them on his lap. “Better?”
“The constitution. What do you think they are? They’re my girlie magazines.”
“I thought you didn’t want me to even see them, let alone have them.”
“Consider them a parting gift from me to you.”
He started going through the pages. You should have seen his eyes. They lit up like a Christmas tree. “Oh my.”
“What. You’re acting like you’ve never seen a pair of tits before.”
“Not like these.”
“I knew you would like ’em. Just don’t show them off to the other guys. They find out you have them and you’ll never see them again.”
“Oh, I won’t.” Willy examined each page like he was an accountant analyzing a balance sheet. He just stared at the pages. He was breathing all heavy and weird.
“Hey, what’s with the breathing? You’re weirding me out.”
“It’s my lungs.”
“Oh yea, sure.”
“Why do they have so much hair?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know, down there.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I don’t mind of course.”
“I thought you said you’ve been with eight girls, Willy.” He started crying again. . Here was this seventeen year old kid crying like child. I really felt sorry for him. I never thought nudie mags could do that to a person.
“What the hell is your problem now?”
“Jake, can I be honest?”
“I don’t know. Give it a shot.”
“I’m a liar, Jake. A bloody liar.”
“Yes. I lied. Some horrible lies. I hope you don’t think any less of me.”
“Nah. We all lie sometimes. We can’t help it. It’s human nature.”
“I feel like a fool.”
“Hey. Relax. We’re among friends here.”
“Sure. The best kind.”
“Yea, why not.”
As soon as our friendship was confirmed, Willy ran off with my nudie mags and started jacking off in the bathroom. I know because I heard one of the hall monitors scream bloody murder when he went into the boys bathroom. The fruitcake couldn’t even wait to jack off in the stalls. He just did it right in the middle of the bathroom. I couldn’t get a wink of shuteye because Willy was being yelled at by one of the school proctors.
So I was tired as all hell on the bus ride to who knows where because my roommate had to jack off in the bathroom. I got a bit of sleep once the bus made it on to the highway. I woke up to find lush English countryside outside the window. It was an unusually sunny day in England, making the countryside vibrant and colorful with green grass and trees that decorated the landscape. The chubby boy next to me finished eating his chocolate bar. I managed to sneak some biscuits from the cafeteria in my pocket. The biscuit was mushed and dull, but was still better than nothing during a long trip. I wanted to fall back asleep again. The countryside looked so tame and tranquil.
“Psst,” the chubby boy whispered to me.
I pretended to not hear him. I just wanted to be by myself and not be bothered by anybody.
“Psst,” he whispered again. “Do you have any snacks?”
“Snacks. I’m hungry.”
“I just saw you wolf down a candy bar.”
“I only had toast and jam for breakfast.”
“That didn’t fill you up?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Let me guess. Because you have a condition?” I said.
“Condition. Why no. What does that have to do with anything?”
“You didn’t answer my question?”
I didn’t recognize him from school. He was already on the bus when I got on. He had this blond hair with khaki shorts and these knee high socks. He wore these God-awful suspenders and a blazer, which looked hideous. “No. I don’t have snacks.”
“Bloody hell. I’m starving.”
“Crying about it won’t do you any good.”
“Quit your bantering back there,” the Bus Driver yelled.
I was sort of happy the bus driver told him to quit running his mouth. I just wanted to enjoy watching the countryside. I had nothing against the kid or anything. But he just got under my skin. I guess I understand how I got under the skin of people, too. Maybe it’s what I’m good at.
“What’s your name?”
“You have a name don’t you?”
“Jake, Jake Hudson. You?”
“Charles. Charles Montgomery. Pleasure to meet you. Say, do you know anything about where we’re going?”
“Not really. All I know it’s for us kids nobody else wants.”
“And why does nobody want you?”
“I don’t know. I get under people’s skin, I suppose.”
“The teachers say I eat too bloody much. That’s why I’m being transferred.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re being transferred because you’re fat?”
“Excuse me. I’m not fat. I’m husky. There is a difference.”
“Oh sorry. You’re being transferred because you’re plump?”
“I once ate an entire box of macaroons during Christmas dinner. They were absolutely delightful. The teachers only let me eat toast for breakfast and boiled eggs with ham for dinner for about a month.”
“I said quiet back there,” the bus driver yelled again.
“There’s no crime against talking,” I said. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Me and my big mouth. The Bus Driver pulled the bus over. He was this big burly son of a bitch. He walked to the back of the bus where we were sitting. “What did you say?”
“I said there’s no crime against talking.”
“What do you know about what’s right and ain’t right?”
“We promise not to talk again,” Charles said. That burly son of a bitch had these huge hands he could just strangle you with. He raised his right hand and slapped Charles right in the face. Damn startled me to tell you the truth. Charles’s left cheek was all red and purple.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” I thought the guy was going hit me next. There wasn’t much I could have done about it. He was as big as a house. One of the biggest sons of bitches I’d ever seen. “I don’t want to hear a peep out neither one of you. You understand?”
I saw Charles cry a bit, his red cheeks glowing. The Bus Driver grinned at his tears. The driver reeved up the bus’s engine and continued our journey. Charles wiped away his tears. I grabbed the biscuit I had left in my pocket. “Psst,” I whispered. I tossed him a piece. Both of us ate biscuits while we went to destination unknown.
It was late afternoon when we arrived at Crowam No. 281. We drove through these rusty steel gates. The rest of the perimeter was composed of concrete walls as tall as the trees decorating the serene countryside. The building had several windows with steel bars that gave the impression of an unscrupulous smirk giving the building a character all its own. It gave me the impression of a prison when we pulled beside the courtyard, where several rows of boys were already lined up.
“Alright, let’s move you out,” the Bus Driver said.
Once we got out of the bus, the driver told us to stand behind the last row of boys to the right of the school. The sky wasn’t sunny anymore. It was grey and depressing. The boys’ demeanor was laconic at best.
“You think they have good food here?” Charles asked.
“Would you shut up! Do you want to get slapped again?” I couldn’t believe that he would talk about food here, after what happened on the bus.
“I’m just hungry.”
“I gave you a piece of my biscuit on the bus. Is that all you think about?”
“Oh bloody hell. Perhaps you’re right.”
The kid in front of me was skinny as a rail. So skinny, the wind could have blown him away. He wore these old beat up trousers and a brown shirt that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. “Say, you know anything about this place?” I asked.
“No. Nobody does.”
“Nobody? Why are you here?”
“I punched a teacher.”
“You punched a teacher! No shit. Why?”
“He called me a no good Catholic bum.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I gave him a good wallop. Hit his head right on the floor.”
“Why did he call you a Catholic bum?”
“Don’t know, suppose it’s because I’m half Irish. The bastard. So I suppose you’re a yank, huh?”
“I make it pretty obvious, huh?”
“Pretty damn obvious if you ask me. What is a Yank like you doing here in England?”
“My dad was a pilot for the RAF during the war. He flew B-17s. He was shot down over Germany.”
“Sorry to hear that. I really am. Damn bloody shame.”
“Thanks, what’s your name?”
A loud whistle blew in the distance. Several guards came out from the entrance of Crowam. The Bus Driver, along with two guards who were patrolling the courtyard, conjured in front of the building. “Alright, everybody inside. Single file!”
The guards wore light blue shirts with blacks pants. Each one carried what looked like billy clubs or batons. Once we got inside, we were escorted into an auditorium. “No talking!” one of the guards yelled. It was a tightly run ship.. The guards went through the numbers like this was routine. The operation ran more like a prison than anything else. It wasn’t like any school I’ve been to. It didn’t even feel like a school.
I sat between Charles and Owen. “What do you think this is all about? Maybe it’s a show.” Charles looked at us for answers.
“I doubt the guards are going to be singing show tunes to us, Charley,” I said.
“Charley?” Charley said.
“Yea, that’s what I’m calling you from now on. Charley,” I said.
“But it’s Charles.”
“Well to me, it’s Charley. Get used to it.”
“I suppose I have no choice?”
“What are you going to call me, Jake?” Owen asked me.
“Just Owen,” I said, not wanting to get involved.
“You’re name just isn’t catchy.”
“I said no talking!” a nearby guard said.
I thought the guard was going to give me a good one right across the face like the Bus Driver did to poor Charley. You could tell they were itching for trouble, clinging to their billy clubs, just looking for a good excuse to use them.
The lights in the auditorium were dimmed. A stage light pointed directly to the podium with just a single microphone. From the corner of the stage came the devil himself. He wore these wire-rimmed glassed with slick black hair. He had these blue eyes hiding behind his glasses and a razor sharp jawbone, looking like he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. He stood in front of the microphone, examining us like we were a lab experiment, surveying the room, looking for anything odd or peculiar. It seemed like an eternity before he said anything.
The boys looked at him with more curiosity than fear. Boys tended to stay a bit naïve to the human condition. We were foolish to the despicable things men are capable of.
The man stared directly to the back of the auditorium. “My name is Mr. Hugo. You will only address me as such. Most of you are here because the state no longer feels you are worthy of staying in any of the orphanages England has to offer. You have abused the privilege of staying in such institutions through misbehavior and mischievous actions. Make no mistake, gentlemen. That sort of behavior will not be tolerated here. You will abide by the rules of this institution.
“The rules are simple yet firm. You shall do as you’re told. Stay within the confines of the perimeter gate and treat yourself and those around you with courtesy and care. If you follow those few guidelines, I assure you your stay here will be tolerable.
“If, however, you choose to break the rules, you will be punished. You are permitted three reprimands during your stay here, each one with its own consequences. Believe me when I say, you do not want to break the third reprimand, gentlemen. The consequences can be severe. Finally, I want to say what a privilege it is having you all here. Good day.” Mr. Hugo left as quickly as he arrived.
“He doesn’t pull any punches does he,” I said to Owen.
“He looks like a miserable prick,” Owen said.
“You said it.”
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