While Christopher was the proverbial rotten apple, we were open to corruption, and willing pupils to his teachings and perversions, even at the tender age of seven. I won’t try to justify the reason we became what we are, other than say the sense of abandonment we felt being sent to Erebus House. The, boarding school for young men drew us together and the mutual hatred we felt for our parents was the glue that bound us. But we were not young men; we were seven-years-old and terrified. All except Christopher. As I said, this doesn’t excuse our behaviour, as many children have suffered the same fate and emerged unscathed to become useful members of society. We were different, though outwardly normal. There is a flaw in our characters or something not right in our genetic makeup. There I go, making excuses and there’s no need. Our end is at hand and soon the sword that’s swinging over our heads will fall and justice done. Do you sense I’m tired, and when the day comes, I’ll be glad it’s over? Then you’re right, but first, I’d like to tell you how it all came about. To get my side of the story in before the screaming headlines of the tabloids embellish it further, but they could do little harm as the horror of what we are is true. If the large, bold capitals declare a killer paedophile ring was taken into custody, they are telling the truth. We are monsters. Abominations shouldn’t be allowed to live, and the coming years will be hellish for both my comrades. I intend to take my own life. Not for me the foul, disinfectant-smelling cells, and I refuse to breathe the same air as the rabble I’ve seen led in handcuffs from the local court. If after all I’ve divulged you can continue to read on, I’ll tell you how it began. Afterwards I’ll let the others speak for themselves and watch with you until the end.
Erebus house is a Victorian manor that no amount of restoration could disguise its crumbling decay. Though the outward appearance was of a sturdy, sound structure, those of us who lived within it, soon came to know its flaws. We became adapt at dodging the crumbling bits of masonry falling from its roof and walls. I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on my prison. That’s what it was for the next nine years. After living in the city and being used to the high-rise apartment blocks and the odd skyscraper, nothing prepared me for this forbidding, Gothic pile. It was the stuff of Victorian melodrama with its mullioned windows, spiked turrets and yawning great door. Set amid acres of woodland and reached by a drive that stretched for miles, it promised ghosts, vampires and frightening, nameless things.
I was delivered there by my Father; I say delivered as he was not so much sending me off to school as ridding himself of one more unwanted thing. My mother died a month before and he was cleaning away her belongings, her clothes, jewellery and me. Though very young, I was aware my parents’ marriage was not a happy one and their pretence of normality was stiff and arid. Her untimely death was a blessing and allowed him the freedom he so obviously dreamt of. I was the last irritating object he had to rid himself of, and the best way he knew of doing this was boarding school. It meant nothing to me my fate was decided this way. I was a solitary little boy, the vast chasm of their marriage widened to exclude me, and there was no way across. What little attention I got was from the series of nannies that came and went as my mother’s moods saw fit. I soon learned to cope with the disappearance of a familiar face.
Even the onslaught of my mother’s illness didn’t touch me. She never asked to see me, her sickroom was out of bounds. So, I watched as the procession of white-coated nurses walked by me with trays of strange-smelling medicines. I didn’t care when they took her away and the pats on the head, I received from well-wishers at her graveside meant nothing. I learned not to react to anything, and even when they took my cat, Tiger from me, I did nothing. They said I’d hurt him. I did. I wanted him to express the pain I was hiding. Either way, I ended up at Erebus House.
My Father shook hands with me on the drive outside the school. It was an awkward moment for both of us, and a rather cold ending to our relationship. I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d see him, or the coldness of our parting would affect me in later years. If only…but then, it’s too late for that now, I am what I am.
I arrived at Erebus in the autumn. I remember the bare trees and their fallen colours on either side of the drive, as we approached the house. The gold, red, copper and orange of the leaves carpeted the wood’s floor and stood out brilliantly against the grey of the building. He never came inside, preferring to leave me in the hands of the headmaster and if he felt any remorse at leaving me behind, it never showed. I called out to him as he climbed back into his car. I’ve no idea what I meant to say, I doubt I would have asked him to take me with him, but I know I needed…something.
The interior of the house was vast and cavernous. Our footsteps thundered on the stripped boards of the stairs, and even the catch of my breath echoed in the stillness. I was informed by the headmaster, a kindly man, that my school mates were all at lessons and I would soon settle in. If he mistook my silence for worry at being in an unfamiliar environment, it was easier to let him think so.
The dormitory I shared with nineteen other boys smelled musty, the air chill. I was left to settle in with the promise someone from an upper form would show me the ropes. I put my clothes away and placed my suitcase on top of the wardrobe. For a while I wandered the room and the small toilet off it, familiarising myself with the general layout. With nothing to do, but wait, I lay down on my bed. It was then I felt the first stirring of fear. Above my head, the wooden beams lining the wall stretched into an arch to form the ceiling. They rose for miles and the corners of each beam were shrouded in shadow. The only things visible were cobwebs gathered in abundance in dark places. To someone with a lifelong terror of spiders the ceiling was the stuff of nightmares. I tried not to envision the watchful eyes hiding behind each cobweb; there was no denying their existence or the scuttling of their inhabitants.
My first night under the gables of Erebus was uneventful. The other boys paid me little attention, other than to offer the odd nod or thinly veiled sneer of contempt. I am slight of build. The years have added little bulk to my frame, and I remain rather weedy. I am short in stature and this made me a perfect victim for the bully. The intervention of Christopher saved me from many a pummelling. He sought me out on my first week at the school. I’d just learned the workings of the place and stayed behind in the dorm while the others went to football practise. My grasp of French nouns was weak, and I decided to put the time to effective use by studying. In the ensuing years, I’ve often wondered if he sensed the weakness in me, the same way the bullies did. I looked up from my book to find him standing there with his sidekick Freddy Leeson beside him. It was whispered you never saw one without the other. I thought this strange as they were so different. Christopher, Christy to his friends, was streetwise and walked with a swagger belying his age. He was two years old than I and to my eyes a shining example of what I could achieve with the right training. His exploits were legendary, and it was whispered the older, bigger boys avoided him. He was vicious in a fight and cunning in his revenge on his enemies. His father, aware his son was on a downward path, begged the school fees from a cousin. His belief a school like Erebus would have a soothing effect on his son was sorely misplaced. All it did was harness his negative energy in one place. His new-found hatred of his father, for removing him from the streets, and the anger he felt needed release in some form. The fact he chose me was an honour and the day he invited me to their den in the woods I was happy beyond words. Though I tried to ignore the fearful glances of the other boys as I followed them through the trees, there was something in the way they looked at me made me watchful.
The den was an old shed that one time belonged to the gardener. This was when the house was in its prime. Now the front lawn and the drive were tended to by a man who called weekly in his truck. The rest of the grounds could return to their natural state. This made it an ideal place for the boys to run and hide, and there were many such dens within its leafy shadows. None near Christy’s.
The interior was musty with the scent of old rope and blankets. A small bed sat on one side, and a crude wooden table completed the look. Two upturned drinks crates were used as seats, and I was told one would be supplied for me if I passed the test admitting me into his gang. During our discussion, Freddy remained mute, other than to nod his head, when a question was thrown at him. I knew Christy was the dominant leader. The initiation began in a harmless way: questions about my family and the reason I was at Erebus. Something in my tone told him I felt lost and abandoned, and the arm he placed around my shoulder was the first friendly touch I’d received in years. He became my mentor and friend and while his teachings weren’t what I expected, I never balked at whatever task he set.
The fumes from the whiskey bottle were stifling in the small room and the first gulp I took burned my throat and made my eyes water. My distress sent him and Freddy into fits of laughter and I joined in their merriment. The bottle was passed around and I dreaded each time it was my turn. My stomach revolted at each fiery sip and my head swam. The walls of the shed moved of their own accord. I don’t remember being helped onto the bed and have a slight recollection of the cool air on my skin as my pants were pulled down. But the pain at the intrusion into my body! The pain I’ll remember forever.
There was no one to help me as we were at free period and wouldn’t be missed until dinner time. I’ve no idea how long I lay on those filthy blankets, but enough time elapsed for my head to clear. Christy and Freddy were seated on the crates as I slid off the bed and pulled up my pants. I prayed neither of them noticed how my fingers trembled as I struggled to do up my buttons. Even after their vicious assault on my body their good opinion counted. I was led back to the school with words of warning ringing in my ears. I would tell no one and they were happy when this promise was extracted.
I excused my absence from the dining hall claiming I had a headache. Though this was accepted without question by the head boy, there was something in his eyes, a knowing look and his pat on my shoulder told me he was there if I needed him. It was too late; my descent into darkness had begun. My pants and underwear were bundled up and stuffed into the bottom of my wardrobe. Too blood-stained to be of further use, they’d remain in hiding until I found time to dump them in the bins. The water in the shower did little to relieve the pain of my torn body. I was shaking so much from the shock of the assault; I was forced to sit on my bed to dress.
I felt no pain as the metal point of the compass sunk into the flesh on my wrists. The veins were easy to find, as I was a colourless boy, all black and white.
I was a failure and my recovery in sick bay lasted a week. I’ve no recollection of how I got there and remember nothing of the screams of the boys who found me lying beside my bed. My assurance to the headmaster I didn’t want my father told and the promise I wouldn’t attempt such a foolish act again, was met with relief. Desperate to save his school from the scandal of an attempted suicide he agreed I was given a second chance, but only under the watchful scrutiny of those older than I. Christy and Freddy were my constant visitors during the days I lay in bed, and their presence didn’t alarm me. I became more and more enraptured by their stories, and the fact they took pleasure in bullying and hurting those weaker than they. By the end of that eventful week I came to believe their whispered promises and their assurances I was a member of their gang. It made the physical pain easier to bear and I emerged from the sick bay a disciple of evil.