Sue’s prompt this week is
Candice Charming pushed Thomas Reedy back into line. This Year Four were undoubtedly the worst year yet. ‘Mandy, leave Gerry alone.’
She caught her colleague, Millie Stammler’s smile and feigned a heart attack. ‘So what do you think this was when they built it?’ She waved at the monumental brickwork towering over them.
April Cousins’ hand went up, as it always did. ‘Yes April?’
And, as always, it sunk down without an answer. She glanced to her right, wondering at what point Humphrey Attagood would deign to answer. Sure, he was exceptionally bright for his years but like his parents he had already acquired the supercilious smugness of the convinced know-all.
They all knew it was a game between her and ‘Humph’. She smiled to herself. His parents couldn’t have picked a more apposite name for one who was always ‘humphing’ about some error in her preparation, or hole in her knowledge.
Millie, short, stout and not given to the waves of self-doubt that often threatened to engulf Candice put her hands on her hips. ‘Come on, you lot,’ she growled in her most ferocious Glaswegian burr, ‘Ideas for Miss Charming please or none of us will have time for our sandwiches.’
Humphrey yawned. ‘Obviously a folly.’
Candice titled her head. ‘Enlighten us Humph. Why a folly?’
‘Useless construction on a grand show-off scale,’ Candice thought that description suited Humphrey’s father rather well, ‘no windows, no real purpose.’ He turned away, apparently bored.
Candice opened her hands wide, ‘This, in contrast was purpose-built to bring jobs to the area, albeit supporting a less than holy cause.’ Gratifyingly, Humphrey looked momentarily stumped before rallying with a ‘I doubt it.’
‘Inside everyone and let’s see if you can work out what it is.’
As the children filed ahead, a small buzz of conversation suggesting at least some intrigue on their part, Millie sidled next to Candice. ‘Bullshit or bravado?’
Candice affected a small smile. ‘Brilliance actually.’
As Millie moved back to cover the rear stragglers Candice heard her say distinctly. ‘I hope so.’
Inside Candice made them form a circle and stare up at the ceiling. A small round hole let in the light, pinpointing Humphrey, who stood in the very centre of the floor, as if he were spot-lit.
‘Imagine that when this was in full use there would have been ladders all the way up the sides and a platform at the top. Where Humph now stands there would have been a large cauldron of water and over there where – Mandy I’m sure Gerry would prefer to keep his trousers on – there would have been a furnace. Any clues?’
Thomas Reedy ran in a circle one hand brushing the wall. ‘It’s a space rocket!’
‘You know, Tom, for once you’re not far off. It was military.’
Thomas stopped and joined the others staring at the hole. ‘Did they, like, fire missiles out of there?’
‘Not quite. What else gets fired, in battles?’
The class hesitated, one or two not sure if they should answer. They glanced at Humphrey who still stared at the roof opening as if hypnotized. Finally, Gerry said, ‘Bullets?’
Candice gave a show of being delighted and clapped hard. ‘Exactly. This is a shot tower. Do you know what a shot is?’
Mandy turned away from Gerry. ‘It’s what my sister likes with her boyfriend when Mum’s out and they tell me to stay in my room.’
‘In addition to that, they are lead bullets. To get them perfect they would drop molten lead into cold water and the result was a perfectly round piece of shot. The hole in the roof, what was that for?’
Humphrey turned round, facing Candice, his expression unreadable. She guessed he was annoyed. ‘It’s to get rid of the crap. Miss.’
The urge to put him right, to humiliate him was so strong but Candice couldn’t; he was nine after all and a product of his family’s attitudes. It wasn’t her place, but still. She caught Millie’s stifled snort. ‘What Humph is saying everyone, is it is a chimney, to get rid of all the smells and smoke. It lets all the rubbish out.’
Just then something passed over the hole, throwing the class into shadow. Everyone glanced up and watched as the light picked out something moving, tracing a line from the hole to Humphrey.
Splat! A yellowy-white handprint appeared on Humphrey’s head and began to drip down his face. Whatever the bird was it was either very large or very incontinent.
‘And sometimes,’ said Millie as she moved past a frozen Candice, ‘It lets the crap back in. Come on Humph, let’s clean you up. After all it’s meant to be lucky for some.’