August Short Story Feature: The Cathedral Bell

Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the July Short Story Feature Contest. The featured entry is:

The Cathedral Bell

By: Violetta Toth

About herself, Violetta says, “I consider myself a book enthusiast and budding author. i have written many short stories and other works throughout my life and career, but I have been waiting for the right opportunity to submit one of my stories for publishing.”

         

St Joseph’s Catholic school has always been the pride of our little town. Nicknamed the jewel in the crown by locals for its upstanding education and impeccable beauty. The school has survived decades of youthful shenanigans and today it’s home to many lively boys with boundless energy and curiosity. Eager to interact with each other, they participate in a myriad of team sports and occasionally play minor practical pranks on one another. They’re like feisty kittens ready to pounce with claws out, leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

Luckily the school was built outside of the main shopping precinct. Its location tucked away in the leafy woodlands, the childish antics of the teenagers out of sight and earshot from the unsuspecting world. And just as well, as St Joseph’s has its reputation to withhold in the community.

The devout locals congregate in the school’s cathedral every Sunday. The cathedral greets all visitors venturing onto the school grounds. Though dark on the outside, the cathedral stands out amongst the surrounding lush green trees and perfectly manicured lawns. Its modest exterior is deceptive, as the interior is a work of art. The afternoon sun beams through the high stained glass windows daily, illuminating the pulpit, like a personal endorsement from God. Its beauty and charm is overwhelming; from the artistic murals on the ceiling to the meticulous craftsmanship of the pews and the marble flooring. It’s a marvellous distraction from the chaos that ensues in the classrooms and main hall.

Today is like any other ordinary afternoon. All those destructive, rambunctious brats have finally left. Even the teachers have returned to the safety of their homes, leaving the classrooms and school building under lock and key.

Peace at last, is all I can think. The room is filled with serenity. No more heavy students sitting on me and leaning backwards, making me balance on my two hind legs. No more loud noises; no yelling, piercing whistles or guffawing. No more pencils and erasers bouncing off of me in an attempt to lend stationery items to their less responsible fellow students who had forgotten it at home…..again. No more suffering through the pungent smell of body odour, especially after a vigorous game of football during lunch hour. The boys usually unaware or disinterested in the invention of deodorant. Nevertheless the aroma of stale sweat still lingers, though less pronounced. Finally I’m able to begin to make myself comfortable, choosing to ignore the chewing gum on my back, even though it’s still moist and sticky. For some reason however, I am unable to feel completely at ease, as a terrible sense of foreboding washes over me.

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By now you might have guessed who I am. Or rather what I am. I’m not human. I’m a wooden chair. I’m the type that the students take for granted. Scratching their initials into my skin, kicking my back when they seek someone’s attention and sometimes resting their dirty shoes on my lap.  

Like I was saying, the day went by like any other. Until an unfamiliar rattle at the door breaks the silence of an otherwise ordinary afternoon. Has a staff member returned for a forgotten object? Or is someone breaking in? What do they want? What will they take? I try to soothe myself by picturing Brother Tom’s friendly face entering the room. He would find his notebook in the top drawer of the large teacher’s desk and breathe a sigh of relief. Then he would depart, locking up the room once again and leaving me to enjoy the slumbering hours of solitude.

As the door creaks open, Brother Tom is nowhere to be seen. In his place stands one of the boys, still dressed in his school uniform. The youthful perpetrator enters the classroom, key in one hand, tool chest in another. I’m filled with apprehension as he enters the room cautiously and walks slowly to the first row of chairs and desks. He slides his hand into the tool chest and pulls out a screwdriver, noticeably shaking. He is obviously nervous, but then why is he doing this? Is he like all the other louts who vandalize desks and throw litter on the floor?

He starts working on the first desk quickly, undoing a screw from the base of the seat. He is exerting himself into the work, struggling to twist each screw out of the furniture. He refuses to remove any of the screws, but instead unscrews them to the point where they are barely holding the furniture together. When he finishes disassembling the first desk to the point of almost collapsing, he carefully moves onto its accompanying chair. This destruction of furniture continues from one set of desks and chairs to another laboriously.

It seems like years have flown by when the callous intruder finally finishes working on the first row of desks and chairs. If you look closely you can see them leaning over, on the verge of annihilation. They’re as fragile as a new born baby and as worn as a senior citizen.

Now he begins working on the second row. Continuing to strain and occasionally grunting in exertion. The day draws to an end as dusk approaches. I feel the tension in the room mounting as the boy gradually draws closer to me. Fear pulses through every wood fiber of my being as I imagine the screwdriver twisting at my screws, disassembling me in a violent assault.

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Soon enough he has finished the second row of desks and chairs. It’s now my turn. My doom has arrived. I’m not ready for him to start work on me. I can’t bare to watch his first violent blow, but I’m also unable to look away. I expect to see a smile of cruelty painted across his face, but the only thing visible are tears welling up in his eyes and a large teardrop rolling down his flushed cheek. His bottom lip quivers and he whispers words of disapproval to himself, clearly riddled with shame. He stops and leans against the wall next to me, unwilling to go on, flustered and angry. Has he come to his senses? Am I saved?

I hear the clock tower chime outside and glance at the clock on the wall. It reveals eleven o’clock. This tall young boy has to have been here for hours, about six hours to be precise.

I take another look at his conflicted features. I can see that he suffers from acute acne. Obviously he is just a young teenage boy, though tall, about six foot one. He is lanky and a little awkward. He runs both of his hands through his thick disheveled ginger hair, cradling his head in his palms like he’s defending himself from the onslaught of the cruel world.

Then I hear a noise coming from the front entrance. Someone else is entering the building. Perhaps this person will come to my rescue. The noise is still a fair distance away, but seems to be gradually and purposely nearing. The sound of footsteps on the marble hallway floor can be heard. There is more than one person approaching. Then the faint sound of distant whispers vibrate through the hall, like ghosts coming to haunt.

“Hey Harry”, the ghost whispers as he enters the room.

The young boy beside me is startled from his self-condemnation as he looks up in response.

“Who’s there?” the boy named Harry asks.

Suddenly there is another person entering the room. He crawls on his hands and knees, looking like an infant in his primitive state of mobility. He moves cautiously over to Harry. They talk briefly, planning their next course of action. The boy has come to help in the destruction and Harry acquiesces. The ghost signals to the doorway and a cluster of black figures enter the room, like looming shadows moving across the floor.

All the boys, except for Harry are decked out in black from head to toe. Even their faces are covered by black masks with eye holes. They look like thieves. In fact they are thieves, robbing the room of its perfection, as every screw had fit perfectly in its place once.

They get to work immediately. Have they no scruples? I think to myself in disdain. Harry advances towards me. I am completely aware of my vulnerability. He clasps my legs and begins twisting at my screws. The pain is agonizing. I’m paroxysmal as he unscrews hastily and then stops for short breaks to catch his breath. By the time he finishes, all of my screws seem to barely hold me in place, but I muster up all the strength I can find to stay upright as Harry makes his way to the neighboring desk.

Art of Tea Organics

At the stroke of midnight the group finishes their work in the room. The exultant gang of shadows rejoice in the success of their destructive mission, silently fist bumping each other. The only one not celebrating is Harry, who appears to be overcome with remorse.

Soon the black figures exit into the main hallway, where the celebrations continue with laughter as the boys high five each other with thundering slaps. The noise trails towards the exit until their presence is a thing of the past. A nightmarish past. Harry on the other hand, takes some time to sit and inspect the damage. He is slumped over in a corner, a picture of misery and exhaustion. Finally he picks himself up and flounders out the door, his feet scraping the wooden floor of the classroom, walking like a man on death row who is forced to drag a steel chain.

For the rest of the night the main hallway is filled with silence and our room is not disturbed again. There is no longer any comfort in that silence, in fact it almost seems eerie after we had been disturbed with such brutality. The only sound that can be heard is the uncomfortable creaking of desks, chairs and the whiteboard. Maybe because their screws were no longer tight enough to keep them still. I knew better though, as I myself was shaking from the fear of the return of Harry and the shadows.

The rest of the night passes without any further incidents and finally the morning rays of sun filter in through the blinds. A signal that the school community is about to come alive again. The chattering of excited students slowly starts to echo through the hallway. Before too long, the room is surrounded by groups of pupils shouting and laughing. I jump in dread when I feel the vibration of a basketball bouncing just outside the door. The jerk of my screws almost leading to my demise. Then I see the doorknob turn and I brace myself for the violent return of the shadow gang.

As my wooden comrades and I stand there in our weakened state, we are greeted by Brother Tom. Normally we take pleasure in his arrival, but today we stand unified in terror. I can feel my fragility, my legs swaying when the first student passes me. As a sea of students file through the narrow doorway, I sense the tsunami on the horizon. All the furniture is now straining to stay upright, unsure if the noisy chatter and laughing will be enough to end it all.

I see a boy place his hand on one of the chairs behind me, excitedly recounting the events of his weekend to his friend. A loud snap rings out. Screws shoot out and ricochet off the back wall. The wooden pieces of the chair plummet to the floor in an explosion. Then the matching desk collapses in despair. The war has begun and the first fatalities silence all of the humans. The destruction of the furniture takes centre stage, as everyone watches in astonishment. Another chair falls victim. The desk at the end of my row slowly shifts to an unhealthy position. I watch and wait to bear witness to its fatal end, but this desk is proud, being the oldest desk in the room, a veteran. It refuses to give up hope.

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A small boy in the corner breaks out in an evil grin as his eyes flicker from one side of the room to the other, girding himself for the havoc he’s about to wreak. He dashes between two rows, slamming the palm of his hand against desktops and backrests. The other students catch on quickly and scurry around the room, joining in the escapade, knocking over desks and chairs. They even stop to give assistance to any furniture that refuses to fall. In all the commotion, Brother Tom takes a step backwards in shock, trying to distance himself from the war zone. As he leans on the large teacher’s desk, both the desk and his body crash to the ground, closely followed by the whiteboard. The Brother’s left hand breaks his fall while his right hand shoots up to cover his heart. I watch Brother Tom in distress. I can see his horror-stricken expression and his chin trembling. Then a boy races past me, knocking me over in glee with a purposeful shove. Lying on the floor I hear the continuation of the destruction as the furniture falls like bombs being dropped on a city. Soon everything is flat on the floor. The only thing to be heard now is Brother Tom’s sobbing and desperate gasps for air. Then everything turns black.

I am aroused by students and teachers assembling the furniture once again. It feels good to be reassembled although I still feel a bit woozy from the fall. It takes a whole day to put the room back together again and though we are roughly placed in our original spots, a couple of desks and a chair are unable to make a full recovery from the tragedy. They are replaced by younger unsuspecting furniture, eager to serve their purpose, but oblivious to the deadly risks they are about to undertake by being here. The reality is that the room can never be restored to its original glory. Nothing is the same anymore. Now when a student sits on me, I creak like an archaic piece of furniture. We have all become antiquated items.

Also, Brother Tom never returned again. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that he had retired, but everyone knows better. A number of rumours have done the rounds. A boy sitting on me told his friend that the teacher had a nervous breakdown that day. Another boy in front of me piped in on their conversation to reveal that the Brother had a heart attack and passed away. Neither story would surprise me. To this day I can’t erase the image of him lying on the ruins of his desk; a destroyed person.

That fateful day changed St Joseph’s school forever. There is no more serenity to be found in student-free afternoons anymore. Instead I stand there, lopsided, staring at the door. We all do. We all anticipate the return of a ginger-haired boy with a tool chest. He’d destroy the room again, but this time it wold be irreparable. I’m sure many teachers and students would share this fear as well. Because of that cruel fateful act of destruction, our room will now live in fear forever. The school has been scarred. And the cathedral bell rings out every hour, like trumpets honoring fallen war victims, both wooden and human.


         

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Art of Tea Organics

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1 Comments on “August Short Story Feature: The Cathedral Bell”

  1. Pingback: August Short Story Contest | Heidi Slowinski

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