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Mr Green is dead, but he doesn’t know it yet…
Mr. Green picked up the bird gently. ‘How are you today, my dear?’ he asked. He looked at her black and white face. Usually, her eyes were bright, and she held her head high. Today, her eyes were dull and her head rested against his hand. The bird’s name was Sally, his favourite. She didn’t always win races, but she always came back home. Last year, in a race in Scotland, a snowstorm killed many of the birds; and in the end, only four returned. Sally was one of them. Mr. Green looked away. From the top of his building, there was a good view of the city’s streets, but there was no one on them. He turned to the vet beside him.
‘Soon, all my birds are going to die. Then I’ll have nothing,’ Mr. Green said.
The vet stood with his back to the other sick birds. A strong wind pulled at his clothes and hair. He felt sad: Mr. Green was an old man with no wife or children, and he loved his birds.
‘I can bring medicine for them,’ he said. ‘Do you want me to do that?’
‘Of course I do,’ said Mr. Green angrily. The vet nodded. ‘It’s expensive.’
‘Don’t worry about the price. I can pay,’ said Mr. Green, but he didn’t look at the vet’s face.
The vet said nothing. He knew Mr. Green was lying.
Downstairs in his small flat, Mr. Green sat at his kitchen table. He thought about Sally, the vet and money for the medicine. ‘What am I going to do?’ he said sadly. In his hand, he held a letter from his bank. He stared at the number at the bottom of it: there was just £20 in his account. He thought about his brother Albert. ‘Perhaps I can get some money from him’. But then he thought again. ‘No, he isn’t going to give me any money. He isn’t talking to me.’ Suddenly, the letterbox opened and closed noisily. ‘Another bill!’ thought Mr. Green. He put down the letter from the bank and went to the door. On the carpet sat a white envelope. He tore it open angrily and read it. Then he read it again. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
Dear Mr. Green,
I am writing about a job at Birnam Wood School. Birnam Council is happy to offer you a job as a janitor at the school for the summer holidays. The school is empty right now so your job is to make sure everything is secure. Can you start immediately?
Yours sincerely, Malcolm Thane
Mr. Green was so happy. He was a good janitor. He had lots of experience and he enjoyed his job. ‘Now I can make some money and save my birds,’ he thought. He called the vet and told him the good news. Next, he went to his neighbour, John. His son was happy to feed Mr. Green’s birds for a few weeks.
They entered Birnam Wood School’s car park at 8.30 in the evening.
‘£12 please,’ said the taxi driver. Mr. Green had a twenty-pound note in his pocket. He paid the taxi driver and took the £8 change. ‘Best of luck with the new job,’ said the driver.
‘It’s only for a few weeks, but thanks anyway,’ said Mr. Green. He watched the taxi climb the small hill up to the east gate and turn right towards the distant town. Soon the noise of its engine disappeared completely and he was alone. He turned and looked at the school’s east building. Its rows and rows of empty classrooms stared silently back.
To his left, on a red sky, he saw a chimney. He began walking towards it. Soon, he reached two buildings. Out the top of the large one, the chimney rose high into the air. ‘The boiler room,’ thought Mr. Green. Next to it, there was a small, square building. A few days before, a single key had arrived in the mail. Now he took that key from his pocket, opened the door and switched on the light. Inside was a dark room with a small bed and an electric cooker. Next to the door, there was a key ring with several other keys on it. There was also a window, but it was small and high up. Next door, in an even smaller room, there was a toilet and a sink. ‘Well, at least it is clean,’ Mr Green said, taking some soap and a towel from his bag. He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. He thought about the food that he had in his bag. ‘I must make some dinner soon,’ he said sleepily.
Mr. Green opened his eyes. The room was dark. He looked at the bright hands on his watch. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. Something was wrong. Why did he wake up? Did something happen? He tried to remember. Was it a bad dream? Was it his usual dream? He didn’t think so. Above him, at the small window, there was only darkness. Was he hungry? He thought about making a cup of tea – that always made him feel better. He was about to stand up when there was a knock at the door. Mr. Green’s heart jumped. He didn’t move. A minute passed, then three more.
‘Stupid old man,’ he said. ‘You imagined it. You are still half asleep. What you need is a nice cup of tea.’ He swung his legs off the bed and reached for the light switch.
Mr. Green jumped. There was someone at the door. He hit the light switch. His eyes opened wide: the door’s handle was beginning to turn.
‘Who’s there?’ he shouted. ‘Who’s there?’ he said again. Was this real? He had only one choice. He grabbed the handle and pulled opened the door. There, at his feet, lay feathers.
Mr. Green put his pipe in his pocket and watched the morning sun climb above the east building. He thought about last night and the feathers. ‘Probably a bird hit my door and flew away,’ he thought. Anyway, it was not important. Today was the first day of his new job. He went into the small room next door. Taking out a brush, a shovel and some bags, he walked over to the east gate. ‘Just look at all these leaves,’ he said to himself. ‘It’s time to clean up this place.’ He put his pipe and matches on a windowsill and started sweeping. He worked hard and after two hours, there were eight piles of leaves. ‘I can put the leaves into bags later, but first I need a drink.’. He went back to the boiler room and had a long, cool glass of water. On the way back to the east building, he heard something. Was it laughter? He reached the east building and turned the final corner towards the car park. He stopped and stood still. The piles of leaves were not there. Instead, the leaves were all over the ground again. He looked around. ‘Who did this?’ he shouted.
No one answered. He turned and reached for his pipe and matches. Gone. Where were they? Now he was really angry. ‘What’s going on?’ he shouted. ‘Who took them?’ Suddenly, he saw something in the classroom in front of him. He knelt down and crept up to the window. Slowly, he raised his head and stared into the dark room. There, at the back of the room, he saw someone, but only for a second. ‘Hey!’ he shouted, ‘Come back here!’ and he ran to the main east entrance. He pulled the door. It did not open. Taking out his keys and unlocking it, he found himself in the middle of a long corridor. It was long and dark with lots of doors. Ahead of him, stairs rose to the first and second floors. He listened carefully but heard only his own breathing. ‘I want my pipe,’ he said to himself. ‘Where did that kid go? He must be here somewhere.’ Suddenly, someone laughed. It came from a classroom nearby. He stepped up to the room’s door – and the door swung slowly open.
‘Who’s in there?’ he said.
But the room was empty.
That night, Mr. Green had his usual dream.
In the dream, it was 8.41am two years ago. He was at Crosslanes primary school and again the playground there was full of noisy kids. He watched them run, laugh and play. ‘They have nothing to worry about, nothing at all,’ he thought. Then he saw Mr. Allen, the Year 5 teacher, on his bike. As usual, he wore a white helmet and a bright red jacket. He cycled past the football matches and crazy games and stopped at the bike shed. Mr. Green nodded hello.
‘Not long to the holidays now,’ said Mr. Allen and got off his bike. He pulled off his helmet and put a chain around the bike’s front wheel.
Mr. Green smiled and closed the door to his janitor’s office. The office was next to the bike shed and he and Mr. Allen often talked there in the mornings.
‘Are you going anywhere nice?’ asked Mr. Green. ‘Joan and I are off to France for a bit of cycling,’ said Mr. Allen and finished locking his bike.
Joan was Mr. Allen’s wife. On rainy days, she brought Mr. Allen to school in their big, red car. Mr. Green didn’t know much about her but he knew that she worked at Birnam Council and that she liked jewellery. He often saw her wearing long, silver earrings and big, expensive rings.
‘Does Joan enjoy all that cycling?
‘She loves it,’ said Mr. Allen and laughed.
‘Not too many hills, I hope!’ said Mr. Green.
Mr. Allen smiled. ‘Just a few small ones! And how about you? Are you going anywhere for the summer?’
Mr. Green shook his head. ‘I have my birds, and anyway I must watch this place.’
Mr. Green woke up. Outside, a bird sang loudly at the small window and flew away. He looked at his watch. It was 6 a.m. He pulled the blanket off and stepped out of bed. He felt tired and sad: he always did after that dream. He didn’t feel hungry and he didn’t want breakfast. He needed to work and take his mind away from the past. He thought about his job now. ‘What can I do today?’ he thought. Then he had an idea: the boiler. ‘I’ll start the boiler.’ It was always a good idea to start a boiler for a little while, even in summer, to make sure it was working well. He dressed quickly and went next door.
Inside the boiler room, the huge machine sat silently. There were many buttons, but Mr. Green used one of these machines when he worked at Crosslanes primary. He began pressing some of the buttons and soon the machine was working. ‘It seems fine, but perhaps it needs to run for 24 hours,’ he thought to himself. Closing the boiler room door behind him, he stepped outside and looked up. Black smoke from the boiler rose slowly from the chimney and darkened the clear air. Inside his room again, he sat on his bed. An image of Sally, his favourite bird, came into his head. ‘I wish there was a telephone here,’ he said to himself. ‘I could call John and find out about her.’ Next door, the machine for the boiler made a deep hum and the bed shook a little. He looked up at the little window. Beyond it, the sky was clear and blue, but there was one small, white cloud. He stared at it. He did not have a mobile phone but he wanted to call his neighbour, John. Suddenly, he had an idea. ‘There must be a telephone in the school’s office,’ he said, feeling happy for the first time that morning.
Outside, he walked to the west building and pulled out the keys. He chose a small one and put it into the lock. There was a ‘click’ and the door opened. ‘That was lucky!’ he said. Inside, there was another door. He pushed it open. There was a corridor and some stairs. ‘Usually offices are upstairs,’ he thought. He climbed the stairs.
On the second floor, he found more empty classrooms and a staff room. ‘No phone here,’ he said and continued to the third floor. There, at the top of the stairs, sat a reception desk with offices behind it. There was also a black leather sofa and four chairs around it. He walked up to the desk and saw a red phone. ‘Great,’ he said and picked it up. He listened. There was no tone. It didn’t work. He slammed it down and looked for another in the offices. But for every phone, it was the same: no tone. None of them worked.
He sat down on the black leather sofa. ‘Now what?’ he said to himself. ‘I don’t have a mobile phone and there isn’t a public phone around here. How can I….’ He stopped and stared. He could not believe his eyes. There, on the little table in front of the sofa, was an old newspaper from two years ago. Mr. Green recognized it immediately. Above a black and white photograph of the burned classrooms, the headline said, ‘Teacher Killed as Fire Destroys Classrooms’.
Mr. Green stared.
There was another picture – of Mr. Green. The headline said, ‘Janitor questioned by police over fire.’
‘Where did this come from? Why is it…?’ shouted Mr. Green, but he didn’t finish his question. The sound of footsteps stopped him.
There was someone on the stairs.
Mr. Green jumped up from the sofa. ‘Who’s there?’ he said.
The footsteps stopped.
A cloud passed across the morning sun and the room darkened. Suddenly, Mr. Green felt cold.
‘Don’t you know me, old man?’ said a low voice from the stairs.
‘Who are you? Is this some kind of joke?’ He tried to sound strong but he couldn’t. He wanted to walk over to the stairs but his whole body felt weak.
‘Who am I?’ asked the voice angrily. It paused. ‘You know me…don’t pretend you don’ t.’
‘What do you want? Tell me!’ shouted Mr. Green.
The voice spoke again. ‘Do you dream about it?’ it asked.
Mr. Green felt ill. There was a pain in his chest. He sat down on the sofa. ‘Yes…’ he whispered, ‘I dream about it all the time.’
‘It was your fault. The emergency exit door didn’t open. You didn’t repair it. That was your job!,’ screamed the voice.
‘It wasn’t my fault. It was an accident….’ Now the pain in his chest was terrible. Suddenly a small, dark object flew through the air and landed on the ground next to Mr. Green. He looked down at it and began to cry. It was the body of Sally, his favourite bird.
Detective Inspector Duncan stepped out of the police car. It was another beautiful morning and already it was quite hot. He looked up at the deep blue sky. In the distance, high up, he saw some tiny shapes. Slowly the objects grew larger. ‘Racing pigeons,’ he said finally. ‘Where are they going?’ Suddenly, the birds turned away and flew towards the west at full speed. He watched them go and soon the sky was empty once again.
‘Sir? The sergeant is waiting for you upstairs,’ said a constable.
Detective Inspector Duncan nodded. ‘Back to work,’ he thought and climbed the stairs to the third floor.
‘Morning, sir,’ said the sergeant there.
‘Good morning,’ replied Inspector Duncan and stared at the body on the sofa.
‘We found him a few hours ago,’ said the sergeant.
‘How did he die?’ asked Duncan.
‘The doctor said heart attack, probably.’
‘Who is he?’
‘His name is Green, sir. I found a letter in his pocket and there’s also the newspaper.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Duncan.
The sergeant pointed to the newspaper on the table and the photograph. ‘It’s the same person,’ he said.
‘I see,’ said Duncan, ‘and how did we find him?’
‘The school’s headmistress called us. She saw smoke from the chimney and came to the school.’
‘Smoke from the chimney?’
‘Yes, sir. Mr. Green started the boiler.’
‘How do you know?’
‘We found his clothes in a room next to the boiler and we found keys to the boiler room in his pockets.’
‘So was he the janitor here?’
‘Well,’ said the sergeant, ‘that’s the strange thing. The letter was a job offer and it came from a Mr. Thane at Birnam County Council. We called the council but Malcolm Thane doesn’t work for them. There is no Malcolm Thane. The letter’s a fake.’
‘That is strange,’ agreed Duncan. ‘We have a dead man in an empty school. We have a fake job offer and we have a newspaper from two years ago with a picture of Mr. Green in it.’ He scratched his head. ‘We even have a dead pigeon….so where did he get the school keys from?’
‘We don’t know, sir. Usually the keys are with the headmistress and Birnam Council.’
The inspector breathed in deeply. ‘Do we have any witnesses?’
‘Not really, sir.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Coming here, the headmistress said she almost crashed into a car. It came from the school car park,’ replied the sergeant.
‘I see. Did she get the license plate?’
‘Did she know the driver?’
‘Can she tell us anything about the car?’
‘Yes, sir. It was red.’
‘Anything else?’ asked Inspector Duncan.
‘Yes, we found this on the stairs,’ said the sergeant and held up a clear plastic bag
‘Whose is that, I wonder?’
The sergeant did not know. Inspector Duncan took the plastic bag from him.
Inside it was a long, silver earring with a red stone in the centre.