Note: This is a past-day event, i.e. a 'flashback' (continuation of even-numbered chapters time span events: 2,4,6, etc.)
The first day of my last school year has been rolling like a long boring flick. Some of the other guys are up quite early already. For once I feel like just sleeping a bit longer for a while. I was not provided that leisure. Bill came knocking on my door and woke me.
“Come on Erik, surely the student president should be setting an example for the other guys,” he says sarcastically.
“I was not the one who elected myself into office. I shall choose to sleep if I wish,” I answered him sleepy
“Oh, thee high and mighty,” giggled Bill. “President, vice president, of the student council. You bunch were likely business transactions, were you not? Contesting to see whose dad could give the school’s budget the best financial boost? Not to speak of those badges on your blazers that were pinned on your chest, is the bloody quotation you will be wearing throughout the year.”
“For fuck sake Bill, you just had to go on and make me feel like crap, hey? My eyes barely opened up. I do hope you not making a habit out of this, this year. I swear I will lock my door before I get to my bed, try me.”
“Cedrick will be on your case again.”
“I made him well aware of what his standing is around here at last night’s student council meeting, I did so quite proficiently. Hence, I have the leisure to lay a bit late in my bed today and he is to deal with the eighth graders and chase them out of their dorm rooms this morning.”
Bill let out a laugh and then turned and walked again.
I might as well stand up, I thought to myself. At that point, Gregory, the new guy walked passed my dorm room. It appears as if he was out running. I noticed the perspiration coming through his T-shirt and running down his face. His eyes met mine as he passes. Tough guy hey, I thought to myself. We are yet to have a conversation.
The morning assembly is held in Blackwood’s graduation hall. The twelve graders sit in the gallery, and members of the Student Council sit in front. Dr Hendrick D. Paterson, the Headmaster and Principal firmly take hold of the lectern while he speaks. His voice thunders through the sound system.
For the better part of the speech, I zone out. Occasionally I choose to catch a couple of words or phrases here and there from the same old speech that he delivers every year: “… to prepare the business leaders of the future for the mammoth task that will rest on their shoulders... outstanding performance... privileged learners... Accretion…” he continuous: “…with our dedicated team of teachers…business philosophy where science and technology meet the world of finance…” slight pause, then goes on again: “…here is the best year ever in the fields of academics and sports…”
Somehow a couple of things pop back into my head which doc Pat mentioned just a while back: “This will be my last year as head of Blackwood International. I wanted to finalise my interests at the school last year, but at the insistence of the school's board and various parents, I am still staying on this year. However, as agreed with the governing body and school board, I will not be able to be at Blackwood International full-time this year. The private business interests I pursue will claim much of my time. Mr Nico Steward, the vice principal and deputy Headmaster, will stand in for me in my absence. I ask that you all support him in this mammoth task that he will be undertaking.”
Private business interests. Wondering what that could be all about? Doc Pat spoke last about something along the same lines. Perhaps it is his way of saying that he had about enough of this place, he will hang up his boots, throw himself a nice whiskey and start to watch infomercials
During the cause of the day, admin arrangements are being made for the rest of the school year. Class registers and oversight of learning plans are still yet to be discussed.
What appears to be intimidating for me is all the warnings that befall the seniors, that this year’s twelve graders will not be having it easy and that it might be the toughest yet. The trend all around is that we should forget about girls, computer games and other stuff that will hinder us from paying attention to the big end goal: our end-of-year exams.
Our teachers are primarily the same bunch we had last year. There are two exceptions however with Jenny Neil and Franco Manson who will be teaching business economics and Portuguese respectively.
That afternoon, we were being drilled by the contracted coach from the athletic academy for the up-and-coming athletic season. I arranged to meet up with all the student council leaders of each hostel, as a formality Then, finally the sun set over the blue mountains behind us.
If there is one thing you should know about polishing dirty shoes for your first day at Blackwood College as an eighth grader, is that: tonight, you pray that you will survive what is known as – the ghost coaster.
The ghost coaster is practically a roller coaster that is built inside a tunnel underneath the school’s integral network of water drainage pipes. The roller coaster is controlled by a finely designed engineered lever on top of the tunnel. The engineer mechanics work in such a way that the roller coaster only stops halfway, they will then have to get out to cover the rest of the distance by walking to the other end of the tunnel. Year after year, the incoming seniors deposit some of the food waste used as compost in this tunnel. The stench of the bacteria that grow in it is like the devil’s breath.
Here’s how it works:
“Up! Up, up, upedy, up, sunshines!” the seniors’ voices will rampant through the hallways of the eighth graders’ hostel. All that is a door will be bumped open, and the young blood will be pulled from with underneath their covers. “Come get, the fuck up! Dress up in your uniforms, sunshines, and no shoes at all.” We then proceed to chuck them out of their rooms. Across the inside quad that forms the group hostels.
“Sing for us sunshines!” one of the seniors shouts. “Show us you all are not scared!” This amplifies their agency to move their shivering bodies faster.
“What…what are we supposed to sing?” asked one of the eighth graders.
“Sing the school anthem for us!” another senior shouted.
This is supposed to work, it always does. On your first day, you do not know the school anthem yet. They all mumble, their voices screeching words that seems to be on a collision cause
“Oh-oh, so you bunch do not even know your own school’s anthem!” a senior on my far left shouted.
“And then you have the nerve to go back to bed and sleep still! How mortifying!” another senior continues to roar.
“I’d say, these little shits should be thought a lesson.”
Across the dark green grass that is selectively being lit in certain places, and the warm night air, we continue to take them. The eighth graders try to sing again. Some English, some having a try at the Portuguese rendition.
“Again! Try again!”
“You all should work together, sunshines.”
They fail miserably, just like the other previous attempts.
As we proceed we came across a lot of bushes and trees. Around the bushes and trees, we got to a huge manholeblock firmly buried in the ground that acts as the entrance to the tunnel.
“Where are the blindfolds?” I ask.
Someone pushes them into my hands. I hand out some to the rest of the seniors. Each one grabs an eighth-grader. We bind the blindfolds tightly around their heads and start spinning them around and around a couple of times. The whole time you can feel the tension in their bodies. Their throats are yeasty of the spinning and you can hear the tears closing in.
I look at Cedrick, vice pres. of SRC and nod.
He takes off the lid that covers the manhole.
“So, it is my impression that you all want to be part of this school hey sunshines!” I shout.
They respond faintly.
“I said: it is my impression that you all bloody hell want to be part of this school, is it not so?”
“Well, it ain’t sounding that way, to me sunshines!” I shouted while I walked around them. Psyched up. “But surely, I am very much open to the idea of needing to be proven wrong. Let us see who will be able to make it out the other side of the tunnel when you guys will be walking the rest of the way, figuring out blindfolded how to exit the tunnel. We will open the exit on the other side and see who will find the rest of their way out the other end. For those of you who manage to get out the other, you will be heartily welcomed into the fold as a Blackwood boy. For those of you who do not, you are very much welcome to stay where you are. Where you belong!”
JT counts the eighth graders as they get into their seats. He records fifty-two. As I push the lever, and the roller coaster takes off, we can hear their voices echoing through the dark tunnel, before the iron lid of the manhole's opening closes behind them. A slight feeling of fear befalls me for the sake of those guys, I know what it feels like to live through such indignation when I arrived here as an eighth grader. The feeling of bodies pressing firmly against you, as you try to make your way out of that godforsaken tunnel. A lot of uncertainty sinks in when you are in there. The stench that intrudes your sense is so revolting. You are so intoxicated by it that only later do you release you still have your blindfold on. But even if you take it off, the darkness is still yet so overwhelming.
“The best of luck guys, the seniors one after the other call out.
“Well that’s that, it went well, didn’t it? They are scared shitless
“So glad that ain’t me in there.”
I slap a couple of guys on the shoulder. This is something you look forward to the moment when you get to the other side of the tunnel: the handover of the ritual.
And then, amongst all the smiling faces I see before me, my eyes fall on Gregory. I walk in his direction. With a voice, with dept and base, it sows above the other guys’ exciting partying outbreak, I say: “But here we have another young blood, no!”
All of a sudden, the guys shimmer down, and silence creeps in. Everyone has their eyes fixed on Gregory now.
“How’s it Gregory, can you perhaps sing the school anthem?” I ask with a smile on my face.
“I don’t do singing,” he responds.
“Oh, then I have just the thing that will change your tune.”
The silence around is overwhelming. I know that all eyes are on me
“Give me another blindfold.” I can feel the soft texture of the small fabric in my hands.
I wrap the blindfold around clenched fists. Walk towards Gregory. Slowly. Just when I was about to bind the blindfold around his eyes, he pushed my hands away.
“Get hold of him!” I shout.
An ocean of hands gets a hold of him, some join in to keep his legs in place before me. I grin, enjoying every moment. I bind the knot at the back of his head tightly, then we spin him around. I can hear the change in his breathing pattern. The veins in his neck pop out. one of the guys’ flashlights falls on Gregory’s eyes. Those eyes looked at me diagonally, over his shoulder.
Suddenly I feel as though the blood in my body evaporates. The feeling makes me feel could.
The way his face turned, the expression on his face. Everything about it was exactly like my brother’s. Precisely like Daniel’s.
“Stop!” I shout. “Leave him!” I get hold of the guys by the shoulders that tried to let Gregory down into the tunnel.
“What’s wrong?” ask Cedrick. “Are you mad?”
“No! Just let him go.” I reach my hand out to Gregory. I can feel the grip of his fingers around my pulse. I pulled him from the tunnel myself.
I can see how the other guys frowned at me. I could not care less about it.
I just had to do it.
Note: This is a present-day event, (continuation of odd-numbered chapters time span evennts: 1,3,5, etc.)It is Friday morning, the day after Greg’s disappearance. The television in the hangout blurs in the hangout. Something about Avian influenza that caused two deaths in England is being broadcast. I am bewildered about the fact as to how the Avian flu has its origin in Hong Kong but had spread rapidly toward the West: The Middle East, Italy, Frans, and England. Even parts of North Africa have been affected, and case there has been detected as well.Gradually the sound of the television fades as the voices in the hostel hallway amplify. It appears as if it is the voices of teachers. Some of the seniors gather in small groups in the hallway.“What the heck is going on?” I ask one of the guys that are in reach.“Gregory has not yet returned,” he said.“Mr Steward, along with a couple of other teachers are in his room.”“Sorry guys,” I say as I forcefully try to get through the crowd t
Note: This is a past-day event, i.e. a 'flashback' (continuation of even-numbered chapters time span events: 2,4,6, etc.)On the quad between the five hostels, there is another water drainage pipe that runs along. It is this iron lid which Cedrick now removes. The metallic sound reverberates through the night. By the windows of the hostels, the rest of the guys stand and look on. They know exactly what is going on, they too went through this.I notice Gregory standing somewhere between all the other guys, while we wait for the eighth graders on the other side. While it appears that he might be standing amongst us, he seems at the same time distant. Arms folded. His eyes intently fixed on the dark hole in the ground.Shadows stretch long dark stripes over the paving. Voices banging against the buildings.We wait, breaths held until... the first pale fingers were folding over the edge of the manhole. Cedrick held out his hand, took hold of the eighth grader’s, and pulled him out. The yo
Note: This is a present-day event, (continuation of odd-numbered chapters time span events: 1,3,5, etc.)By Saturday morning, the news had spread like a flu epidemic to the lower grades. Everyone tries to get information out of the seniors, but because they don't really say anything, the guys make up their own stories. I am on duty in the Basquiat dining hall. Just wander around there listlessly, wishing the bunch would now eat and walk their free-range eggs and other organic food."They got him, guys. For Gregory." an excited voice behind me. I turned around quickly. "Hung from a tree. His tongue so out -" I grabbed the grade-eight guy by the shoulder. Hard. "Where do you hear?" "By Jones," he says, quietly startled. "Who's Jones?"He pointed with his finger. I felt anger take over my body. It's so bad that for a moment I just had to pause and breathe. Calm down. "Tell Jones I will pull his tongue out if he spreads such rubbish again."I walked outside and sat down on the staircase i
Note: This is a past event, i.e. a ‘flashback’ (continuation of even-numbered chapter time span: 2,4,6, etc.)'“What? Are you crazy?" I asked. "Where would I have tried to hack by now?" Gregory Smiled timidly. "Close the door behind you. The Realm of Cyberspace awaits..."Dark words, choking with excitement. Realm. Just the sound of it makes me want to get goosebumps. As if it's Daniel announcing "Hey, bro, we're going to try a new extreme sport. What do you say, are you in?"Gregory turned back to his laptop. "Let me show you. I've been trying to hack this one," he says. "It's a travel agent's website. I ran a show to check for CGI weaknesses and-""Wait, CGI... like the shows they use to make special effects for movies?"Gregory shook his head. "No, it's something else. This CGI is "Common Gateway Interface." It just refers to the way apps on a web server talk to a surfer’s browser.""Why are you doing this?""I'm looking for a place to come in. You can see the company on the other
Note: This is a present-day event (continuation of odd-numbered chapter time span: 1,3,5, etc.)The email slips into cyberspace like a bullet from a silenced pistol. Quiet and deadly. Right on target. The sports day was barely over when I saw a car coming towards the school. The only one arriving, while the others are driving away. I can't be sure if it's them, but a squirm pulls through my body, making my neck hair stand on end. And I wonder... Is this a reporter from one of the news newspapers?There is great excitement in House Basquiat's corridors. Blackwood College crushed Lockwood Boys High. In the Hangout, someone starts playing a rugby CD very loudly. Yeah, no, money can't buy good taste either.I was just aiming towards my door to go for a walk around the other floors, seeing if everything was alright there when JT and Bill came rushing on. They bundled me back into my room. "Hey, my dude, you should have seen it," Bill says, his arm around JT's neck and his fist in the air.
Note: This is a past event, i.e. a ‘flashback’ (continuation of odd-numbered chapter storyline: 2,4,6, etc.)That's the day after I saw Gregory hack the travel agent's system. And the first morning Gregory came to wake me up. "While Zeus, the ruler of Olympus, lies sleepily folded in Hypnos' wings, his son Heracles' ship runs aground on Kos again today," he says."What the hell?" I asked through sleep."Never mind. Move your arse and get up," he replied. I open one eye and lift myself on my elbows. Gregory is in his workout clothes. Sweat gleamed on his body."Are you crazy? Have you gone jogging already?" I asked."Always. The only time to think clearly, so early in the morning. Come on, get a move on, it's almost time for breakfast."The day drags around. At the behest of Doc, I must accept the SRC over their "deplorable discipline." Mr Steward showed up halfway through the meeting. Spying on us, as if we didn't know. "Would you like to add anything else?" I asked until I finished m
Note: This is a present-day event, (continuation of odd-numbered time span: 1,3,5, etc.)"Get that computer technician... uh Thomas...""Thompsen" Mr Steward corrects Doc Pat."Get Thompsen, that he's coming to see.""But will he come out so late at night, Doc?" asked Mr Steward."He lives on Harrismith. He'll have to drive all the way -""That's what he's paid for, damn!" From his tone of voice, I can infer that Doc is now sitting nicely in the pinch. But for what? What's wrong with the computers? They were talking about the learners’ database. The answer came sooner than I expected."You're sure you looked right, Nic?" rumbled Doc.Mr. Steward's voice is calm, but the distress nonetheless persists, "I'm telling you, Doc. There are no contacts on Gregory's records. Not even his parents' names. No address, no phone numbers. Nothing. Just his name: Gregory Stevens."Again, alone in my dark dorm room and I can't sleep. It's like Gregory doesn't want to let me sleep. He's gone, but now
Note: This is a past-day event, (continuation of even-numbered chapter time span: 2,4,6, etc.)The next few evenings, after I completed the first hacking challenge under Gregory's guidance, I am busy on hackthissite after hasty study sessions and exchanged supervision duty shifts. Sometimes in my room, other times on Gregory's laptop, in his room. Afterwards, it feels like my head wants to burst from all the information, from the frustration, because the more I learn, the more I see that I still know less."You have to be patient," Gregory advises. "Pay attention to the detail."So, I stumble through the challenges. Struggling, but at least. I learn that when you enter a password on a website. the system must look somewhere in its scripts for a password file. It compares your password with what it has in its password file. If the two match, you're in.In Challenge 2 I find out after a struggle that Sam, the supposed network administrator, forgot to set up the password file. So, there